Archives for posts with tag: in the kitchen

Inspiration leads to… change. Leads to amazing discoveries. Leads to new art, new writing, new thinking. Inspiration comes in a lot of forms, and I think one of the most unusual forms of inspiration for me over the past 2 years and 8 months (or something like that) has been… the pandemic. No kidding. Yes, it’s been hard. Yes, there have been tragedies upon tragedies, upon inconveniences, upon hardships and chaos. There have been colossal disappointments and headaches, and a lot of the experiences of pandemic life have been less than ideal. No argument there. …But… Have you noticed the other things?

Early in the pandemic, to stave off boredom and despair, a lot of people took to new projects and practices to keep themselves from spiraling into depression or to “save their sanity” as close quarters quickly began to feel like real confinement. My Traveling Partner built a new gaming computer – then built one for me. (We really lucked out on the timing, there, because things like graphics cards became “unobtainium” early in the pandemic.) I took on renewed enthusiasm with my aquarium, redesigned the interior of that habitat, and gained some delightful new aquatic creatures. We worked together to refine my work-from-home space to make that not just endurable, but really practical, and actually better than anything I could achieve in the office.

As time wore on, a lot of landlords began to get restless and their ability to earn their living was negatively impacted along with a lot of hard-working people struggling during the pandemic. Our own landlord made noises about wanting to move back into the unit we were occupying – even though we were great tenants able to pay on time each month. We started looking for a home of our own, and surprised ourselves by finding one we could afford, in a community we actually found desirable and livable. We moved, during the pandemic. Craziness. The “new house” thing kept us very busy during the latter half of that first year, and on into the second.

Time kept passing. Pandemic kept being a pandemic.

On Valentine’s Day this year, my partner surprised the hell out of me with a rice cooker and a wok. (We generally don’t do anything about Valentine’s Day other than love each other – which we do all year, every day.) I had never cooked with a wok. I’d only recently even attempted a stir fry for the first time, in a big skillet. I began my next pandemic project right then; learning some Asian cuisine. This was not only wildly successful (and tasty)… it opened my eyes to something I really hadn’t allowed myself to understand before this; I wasn’t actually a very good cook. I made food that was entirely edible. Simple. Decent casseroles. Good biscuits. Acceptable mostly relatively healthy absolutely 100% ordinary food. Good enough that someone sitting down to my table would eat a meal. Not good enough that folks raved about it or asked for my recipes, with the exception of my chocolate truffles (thank you Jacques Pepin) and my shortbread (thanks, Granny). Sometimes my cranberry sauce would wow someone enough to ask for that one (my own recipe, using whole cranberries, cooked with care, and some “wow” added with tangerine slices and Cointreau). Not exactly something to brag about.

My Traveling Partner has always been kind, gracious, and appreciative of my cooking. He’s also nearly always had “notes” – feedback. Some observation on this or that I could maybe do better, offered with great care, love, and consideration for my feelings. My cooking did not get better thereby, or at least not very much. I needed more time, and more study, and I needed to get to that place where I understood that my cooking needed real improvement to be “good”.

That first “pandemic Giftmas”, he gave me Kenji Lopez-Alt’s book “The Food Lab”. (I recommend it!) This started me down the path of actually learning to cook. Like, for real. I learned to make scrambled eggs that were so good I was proud to serve them – and enjoyed eating them – and learned that I didn’t actually “hate eggs”. I just didn’t know how to cook them. LOL I started paying attention more to what I was doing, and really taking my time in the kitchen. The new house has a kitchen that is really my own – and my Traveling Partner began making me cool kitchen gadgets and tools in his shop. I added “The Wok” to my cookbooks, another great cookbook by Kenji Lopez-Alt. I began making changes to how I shopped, prepared, and cooked various foods, based on my partner’s feedback, my new cookbooks, and… inspiration.

My cooking just kept getting better.

The cutting board and knife bar were made with love – and definitely improve the flow of my work space in the kitchen!

My cooking was definitely also “skewed Asian” – I pretty much gave up cooking anything that didn’t happen in a wok. LOL (I even planted my new garden with veggies specifically for stir fries. :D) I was a bit hesitant to stray from what was working out so well!

I kept studying and seeking out chefs, cooks, and content creators whose YouTube videos gave me the most practical insights to becoming a better cook. I continue to do that today. Why am I even going on and on about it? Because… inspiration. See, one evening I decided to whip up something with pasta instead of making a stir fry, or fried rice, or noodles. It was truly dreadful. I mean, honestly, I made something I’d made before, made the way I had always made it. It was a bit of an eye opener, honestly. Did not realize how entirely mediocre my cooking actually had been. It was a hard meal to eat. We had a sense of humor about it. I went back to wok cooking, which I’ve gotten pretty good at it and continue to study.

…But it nagged at me…

…I enjoy good pasta…

I also enjoy Joshua Weissman’s cooking videos. I bought his cookbook. I recommend his content. Some of it is Asian or Asian-inspired. A lot of it isn’t. I kept thinking about pasta. I really do like pasta. I was hesitant. I went looking for more pasta-specific content I could count on to be really good – things that would elevate my cooking, and teach me. Not just any cook, chef, or content creator makes the cut for me; I want to learn. The content has to be “proper“. I’m pretty selective. I stumbled on Vincenzo Prosperi – an Italian in Australia. I watched a video on his channel Vincenzo’s Plate, reacting to bad cooking (hilarious)(and just as I had with Uncle Roger’s videos about fried rice) – and then watched Vincenzo prepare the dish correctly. I watched others. I was watching one a couple days ago. My partner happened to be watching. “Now that looks good!” I was hesitant… seriously nervous about it… but I went for it last night, and made a lovely mushroom pasta dish for dinner. Wow. Worth the study, worth the care – it was tasty and felt like a kind of a home coming. (Thanks, Vincenzo!).

It’s going to be hot this week. I woke this morning eager to consider a cold pasta salad. I searched YouTube for inspiration (…that word again…), and found Jim at Sip and Feast. I watched a couple videos, and my Traveling Partner wandered through the living room just in time to hear Jim talking about his Greek pasta salad. “That sounds yummy” he remarked. “Yeah?” was my answer while my fingers began the practical task of jotting down ingredients I didn’t have on hand. There was time for a trip to the store before the heat set in…

A recipe is really just another kind of map, isn’t it?

It’s much later. There is a lovely pasta salad ready for these hot afternoons. I’m sipping an iced coffee that I spiked with the squeezed out shell of the lemon I zested and juiced for that recipe, and some very handy Jacobsen’s Lemon Zest sea salt – which, omg, so useful and yummy. (I’m not sponsored by any of these folks or brands – I just enjoy them and want to share with you.)

It doesn’t have to be fancy to be satisfying.

It’s a good day to be inspired. It’s a good day to begin again. It’s your adventure – choose your next move. ­čÖé Where will inspiration lead you?

I like a bit of dessert now and then. Yesterday pie sounded good, and the blueberries in the front hedge are plentiful this year. By day’s end, I didn’t really feel like making a really good pie crust, but still wanted that fruit + baked-something-or-other experience. I knew I had options. Cobblers, buckles, crumbles, slumps, Betties, pandowdies… there are quite a few simple, rather home-y, baked goods that combine something a bit biscuit-y (USA ‘biscuit’ rather than UK ‘biscuit’ fyi) with some fruit. All so similar, all so simple…and so many words that describe them, each potentially something subtly different.

A cobbler is fruit, in a baking dish, with biscuit or dumpling on top and baked. Yum.

Put the fruit on top, before it is baked and it becomes a buckle.

Bake that cobbler on the stove-top and it becomes a slump.

A crumble is a cobbler sort of thing, but with a streusel topping, often using brown sugar. Also, yum.

Add oatmeal to the streusel topping, and that basic crumble becomes a ‘crisp‘.

A fool is something very different, being fruit folded into custard or whipped creamy goodness. Again, quite yummy.

It’s just a bit as if each cook met a need, tweaked a recipe, found a way – and gave it a new name, and made it their own. ┬áThere are so many words for ‘fruit baked with biscuit’. The words themselves don’t change the experience, and as I learned last night, the words themselves don’t even offer an assurance of recognition, understanding, or shared meaning. I discovered that in the discussion of tasty baked goodness that I shared with my at-home partner last night. “What’s a cobbler?” was quickly followed by “what’s a buckle?”, “what’s a slump?” and “what’s a fool?”, very nearly throwing me off course from actually preparing dessert!

Cobbler was made, and eaten; shared and enjoyed over conversation it became more than a meal. We enjoyed the cobbler together, savoring the berries from our own garden, and the good company, and friendly conversation. It became a moment of connection. It became an experience. I enjoyed baking for the two of us. We enjoyed sharing the experience of eating tasty cobbler together, and talking, and sharing the time as well as the dessert. It’s a small thing, in the bigger picture, but I can’t help wonder how much more peace would be in the world if we were each and all more focused on the small pleasures we can all share than on ‘being right’ about something, or pushing our ideology on the world. ‘Being right’ is highly over-rated, compared to ‘being close’, ‘being connected’, or ‘being content’.

I’m sure there’s a metaphor in here somewhere… I know I’d have had to put more work into baking a pie from scratch, and the joy of sharing the dessert would have been no greater. Even the flavors themselves, of baked fruit and pastry, wouldn’t have been so distinct from each other as to justify the additional work, late in the evening, after a long, hot day. Sometimes ‘easy’ is the way to go. Sometimes sharing matters more than what is being shared. We can choose easy. We can choose sharing. We can choose to savor the lovely simple moments of connection in our busy lives. We can choose to nurture ourselves, and our loved ones.

No matter how hurt or angry we are, it’s not productive – or healing – to bomb the @#$^*&!! out of everything around us (metaphorically speaking), and certainly it gets us no closer to being understood, or understanding others; we’d be better off baking a cobbler, and sharing some conversation.

Why choose conflict, when cobbler is a possibility?

Why choose conflict, when cobbler is a possibility?

Today is a good day for dessert. Today is a good day to share the bounty of life. Today is a good day for smiles, and hugs, and compliments. Today is a good day to change the world.