Archives for posts with tag: love 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. ๐Ÿ™‚ Where will inspiration lead you?

Most details of this delightful love I share with my Traveling Partner play out in our kitchen. Discussions about recipes, cooking techniques, taste preferences, costs and sources of various ingredients, and sharing suggestions, tips, and offering practical help, or even just hanging out to watch and share the experience, are all very commonplace happenings here. We both cook. He’s quite good at it. I’m a perpetual novice, tackling every new recipe as if cooking for the first time. I’ve learned quite a lot from my partner, in our kitchen. Even subtler nuances of love play out in our kitchen; how our dynamic works (or doesn’t, now and then), the search for balance, mutual autonomy, mutual respect, and the way our obvious fond regard for one another eases the strain of occasional conflict. How to communicate. How to follow instructions. It’s all in the kitchen.

I personally have a strange mixed up relationship with “the kitchen”. In my childhood, this was the place women gathered – or were directed towards. “Real chefs” were respected in the world… women in the kitchen were not. I have a lingering fuck-ton of baggage about misogyny, the kitchen, feminism, equality, and what it means to be a woman in the kitchen, in American life. All mine. I don’t think my partner shares that garbage (he’s no doubt got his own to deal with), and this too becomes part of the theater of life – and the kitchen.

…I do love cookbooks. This may seem odd considering my strange relationship with the kitchen and with cooking. I long resented the dishes (as in “dirty, in the sink”) as emblematic of servitude, for like… decades. No idea when I got over that… I think it was when I realized that it was my own desire for order that drove my stress about the dishes, that I was finally able to put some of that down and walk on from it. I even like cooking. I like taking ingredients and making them something more than they once were – something worth sharing, and experiencing. The effort has meaning and value, when I allow myself to wholly enjoy the outcome, authentically, honestly, and fearlessly. I mean – let’s be real here – I’m not the most fantastic cook on the block. lol I’ve got a lot to learn, and mistakes have been made. ๐Ÿ™‚ I’ll probably enjoy learning more about cooking for a long while to come.

I’ve learned a few things in the kitchen, in this relationship, and not just recipes or gadgets. I’ve learned more about “the dance” of lovers in close quarters working on separate tasks; kitchens are often small confined spaces, and in some cases even two people is one person “too many” for ease and convenience. Coordination becomes relevant. Communication is important. Acceptance, and understanding, and the assumption of positive intent keep things merrily moving along toward a successful, hopefully tasty conclusion. ๐Ÿ™‚ There are some really useful lessons to be learned in the kitchen.

Friday I said I wanted to work on my pancakes this weekend. They’re okay. Not “great”. They’re perfectly good pancakes, but not such that anyone is going to ask me to make them. LOL So, okay. I made pancakes yesterday. Re-learned the lesson that is “make sure your surface is hot enough before you start cooking the pancakes”. Important lesson there. ๐Ÿ™‚ In the evening, I remembered my plan to make pancakes and spoke up about my intention to do so again today for breakfast. My partner’s reply? “Waffles?”. Yep. I learned to make waffles pretty well last year, around this same time, I think. At that time, my Traveling Partner was kind, and very clear about it “I don’t really like waffles, but…” he was totally open to supporting my efforts by eating waffles now and then. He just didn’t want me to be disappointed if he just wasn’t wowed by waffles. I appreciate expectation-setting, especially when done with such care and love. I made the waffles. They were “okay”. We ate them. I made more waffles, and the next time or two they were beyond “okay” – we ate those, too, obviously. My waffles are pretty good. Good enough to freeze any excess and using them as homemade freezer waffles for later. lol My partner asks me to make waffles – because my waffles are fucking delicious. ๐Ÿ˜€ There’s a lesson here. There’s a metaphor here. I think it over and sip my coffee.

Soon, it’ll be time to begin again. In the kitchen. Making waffles. Feeling loved.

Generally speaking, it makes a lot of sense to cook from the recipe, particularly considering I am neither a trained cook or chef, nor am I an amazing natural talent in the kitchen. I’m just a person cooking food. ๐Ÿ™‚ The traditions of my family’s kitchens are not astonishing. They are a fairly commonplace hodge-podge of German, English, French, Slavic, and Mediterranean cuisines, with hints of flavors borrowed elsewhere. Ordinary “American food”. I was fortunate to be exposed to more foreign flavors and food experiences through my military service, and family members who traveled the world in their own endeavors. I enjoy food. I’m less of a fan of kitchen work (chopping, preparing, measuring, cleaning up, doing dishes), but… if I don’t cook, I have far fewer choices of what foods go into my mouth!

…If I want to reproduce a food, meal, or flavor I fancy, I pretty much have to follow the recipe with care, though, is my point…

“Follow the recipe” sounds rather a lot like “follow instructions”. There is, for sure, a time and place where/when not following instructions may be the wiser course, but let’s be real; those times/places are by far the exception. In general, it makes sense to follow directions, instructions, recipes, how-to guides, care manuals, safety warnings… all of that.

I had a powerful lesson in following the recipe over the holiday weekend – and it was tasty and delightful. I (re)learned how to make scrambled eggs (that are actually worth eating)! Doesn’t sound that exciting, I’m sure. It was delicious (but now I can’t say I don’t like eggs). I also (re)learned to make really good waffles. So much yum. ๐Ÿ˜€ Super delicious, and I got there by reading with care (in this instance equivalent to listening deeply), following the recipe, and practice. Totally worth it!

…Then, I ruined the wire whisk for my Kitchen Aid mixer by throwing it into the dishwasher carelessly (acting on the recollection that it is dishwasher safe – it isn’t – from a much older model that had an all-stainless whisk attachment – that still had care instructions, by the way, that said “hand wash only”). Well, shit. Harsh reminder that “rules is rules”, and in some cases (often with safety instructions or care instructions), those rules are there for a legitimately good reason. In this case, the dishwasher efficiently removed the coating from the zinc-containing base metal of the attachment’s hub (the wires themselves are still stainless), creating a safety/health concern, and also just generally an icky inky mess any time I touch that whisk.

I woke to a polite note from my Traveling Partner, who had emptied the dishwasher this morning. It included a frowny face, and a reminder that he’d specifically reminded me not to put these accessories in the dishwasher, and asking me to toss the ruined accessory and order a new one. Fuuuuuuuuuck. Damn it. Shit. I’m annoyed with myself. Learning new shit sometimes means unlearning old shit – and guess which one of those things does not come naturally to me?? (If you guessed that I may have some challenges unlearning habitual behaviors, you are correct!)

Follow the recipe. Yes, maybe you have a tweak in mind that could be really good… I’m not saying don’t explore or adventure, just noticing how much more successful I tend to be, in a great many circumstances, when I follow recipes – whether those are recipes for waffles or recipes for success is not relevant here. Recipes. Instructions. Warnings. Care guides. RTFM. Even I know that. Here’s the thing; I’m learning that there are elements of recipes one can adjust more or less to preference or with wild abandon… and others that can’t be adjusted without wrecking the result. Some substitutions work. Some don’t. Some changes affect flavor. Some changes don’t. Some changes result in the chemistry of the recipe breaking down completely (go ahead, leave out all the eggs, cheese, proteins and starches from your “casserole” – let me know how that one goes). So. There’s that. One more challenging bit of skillful adulthood to tackle. LOL

…Note: there’s really no version of “changing the recipe” that applies comfortably to actual safety instructions. Just saying, be safe.

So, this morning I’m sipping my coffee and shopping for a replacement wire whisk, and feeling grateful to have a partner who is fairly patient with me day-to-day, and feeling grateful to have reached this place where I am also patient with myself. There’s a ton of practice involved in changing old habits or frankly-less-than-ideal behavior. My results vary. I definitely have to begin again, like, a bunch. It is a process.

Heading into the new year, I’m not even upset over it, just mildly frustrated, a bit disappointed with myself, and eager to begin again. ๐Ÿ™‚

Giftmas is approaching quickly. I am feeling merry and cheerily invested in what is as likely to be a solitary holiday as not; there is no certainty in my planning these days, and I am learning to be okay with that. It is in the planning that my own comfort lies, and in clear communication and expectation-setting when plans begin to shift, or go sideways unexpectedly. Each of life’s disappointments, hardships, and changes open my eyes to some new perspective or opportunity, a little like a holiday advent calendar.

Let it snow? Sure, why not? Or don't - that's okay, too.

Let it snow? Sure, why not? Or don’t – that’s okay, too.

Last night was wonderfully merry, and definitely my idea of a festive holiday season. My early Giftmas present arrived on my doorstep, and when I got home one of my neighbors brought it over; he’d taken it in knowing I was not home. I had no time to open the box before a small posse of my former colleagues from another company (and dear friends) stopped by for some holiday cheer and catching up on things. ย We enjoyed a (rare treat for me) glass of sherry together, and hung out sharing anecdotes, and generally enjoying a couple precious hours together. I miss those guys; seeing them every day was the best part of that particular job. It’s always been the people that matter most, though I didn’t always understand that. ๐Ÿ™‚

Eventually, alone again in my quiet sanctuary on the edge of a marshy meadow, fire reduced to glowing embers, I opened the box. I cried happy tears that couldn’t be held back. I ran my fingers along the glossy black enameled lines of the new mixer. Some feminist, right? Standing in my kitchen in fuzzy spa socks, caressing a kitchen appliance, crying happy tears. I laughed out loud, still weeping with joy. Down to the tiniest detail, that man loves me. Fuck, I hope I am truly worthy of such profound emotion.

This mixer is black… it replaces a beige one, a color that was, at the time, a compromise; I had wanted a white one, then. My traveling partner ordered this new mixer, standing in my kitchen while we talked of other things. He chose one thatย matches my current appliances, understanding my aesthetic. He may even have understood that there is significance in how very “opposite” the glossy black is in my eyes – a gift given truly from a place of love, utterly the opposite in every way to the off-white mixer, which was given out of obligation and delivered into a relationship characterized by violence, violation, and destruction. (Although I loved the old mixer for its exquisite functionality and utility and purpose, every time I used it old damage and pain would surface to fill my consciousness again…over decades.) This morning, I stood in the kitchen making my coffee, smiling at the beautiful black mixer on the counter, alluring, promising good times in the kitchen, and reminding me only of love.

This morning the apartment is filled with music. There’s housekeeping to be done; my Traveling Partner is planning to be over tonight. The mixer stands ready for adventures in baking, and I have a stack of cookbooks next to me that I began flipping through last night. I look at them, and smile, and somewhere in a dark corner one of my demons lays down and dies, as happy tears slide past my smile. “I’m free!!” something inside me shouts with joy. I’m not sure quite what, or quite why. ย I’m okay with feeling this good in this moment.

Today is a good day to be merry. Giftmas is almost here. Today is a good day for giving, and a good day for loving. Baking holiday treats may not change the world, but they’ll sure make the house smell wonderful! ย ๐Ÿ˜€

This morning biscuits are a metaphor. I haven’t made any, I’m just thinking about them. Fresh hot homemade biscuits right from the oven on a lazy spring Sunday morning, served with sweet cream butter, homemade fruit preserves of some kind or another – or several – maybe some lemon curd, and Devonshire cream – and plenty of coffee, or tea, sounds like just about the perfect morning munch, or lovely bite of brunch a bit later, or excellent accompaniment to a good lunch salad… I’m just saying; I like biscuits. (American biscuits… so… scones.)

Home made scones.

Home made scones.

How are biscuits a metaphor? Simply that there is nothing fancy about a biscuit, even the recipeย itself is easy. Flour, shortening, liquid, mixed in the correct ratio, spooned onto a pan if you’re not up for rolling and cutting, and then baked – but the results are extraordinary when the ingredients are in the correct ratio, the steps followed in order, and the progress of the baking attended to mindfully.

Sometimes we take what is easy and make it harder. I’m not sure why, but I know I do, and have, and likely will again in the future.

I’ve got stacks of cookbooks, and a lot of biscuit recipes. Some of the recipes start things off by taking those simple ingredients and directing me toward very complicated steps. Some of the recipes are a simple tweak of the basic concept, but result in something very different at the end.

A biscuit done well can be the foundation of something amazing - like a grown up take on a breakfast 'ice cream sandwich'.

A biscuit done well can be the foundation of something amazing – like a grown up take on a breakfast ‘ice cream sandwich’.

The poorest pantry likely has the ingredients for biscuits; flour of some kind, water or milk, some sort of shortening, a leavening ingredient. Biscuits can be made simply, or with far fancier ingredients – they’re still biscuits, and the sort of thing that tends to be very available. Affordable luxury? A small investment in effort, a commitment to a good recipe, and having simple staple ingredients on hand can result in luxury, comfort, and contentment in the hardest times.

Everyone has tough times. In the toughest times, I’ve still been able to make biscuits. I’m trying to say something… about life, about love, about hard times…about the simple basics that we can get by on, when we make the choice to do so. Still choices, still verbs involved – but the list of ingredients may be quite simple indeed. (Check your pantry – are you well stocked on emotional staples?)

Today is a good day to do well on what is at hand. Today is a good day to follow a good recipe. Today is a good day to enjoy the simple pleasures that I know I can count on. Today is a good day to change my world.