Anyone can cook!?

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For pictures of Mardis Gras, please read Albany Jane’s amazing blog post, complete with photos.

http://albanyeats.blogspot.com/2009/02/no-one-really-ok-in-last-post-i-meant.html

I usually try to post twice a week on this blog. Okay… so I made the promise to myself that I would post twice a week to keep things chugging along. And I was bad this week because I’ve been so busy with living the life of a busy woman. The thing about retail management is that your schedule varies from week to week and you have really odd hours. Sometimes you’re at work at 7am. Sometimes you’re there until 11pm. It’s really hard to keep a regular routine, and that includes blogging and cooking.

Thankfully I have adopted “parents” who keep me on track. Albany Jane and Albany John often offer me their abode, whatever vegetarian goodies they’ve got and more often then not, their couch when I’m tuckered out from playing too much wii. Whoever said you make your friends but you’re given your family was wrong. These people are my family.

Who else would make sure that I eat something other than lo mein from the mall?

As a thank you for Mardis Gras, I offered to cook them dinner! Visiting my parents over the weekend, I picked up a yummy box of fresh ravioli from a Woodstock-local company called La Bella Pasta. I was introduced to this most wonderful stuff when my family moved from Kingston to Woodstock. The family across the street gave us a welcome basket full of fresh and delicious pasta. They own the place. Thus began a love affair! For more information about how you can get local and fresh pasta, go here: http://www.labellapasta.com/index.html. And if you ever have the chance, black bean ravioli with salsa… oh yum!

Now that my plug as been accomplished, I can continue. I had wanted to get the black bean ravioli, but it seems that they only do it over the summer. Can’t find it in the winter. I did come across a whole wheat ravioli that interested me. Biting into it was delicious. I love the nutty taste of whole weat pasta, but this had a surprise! Spinach mixed with the cheese. I wanted to do a sauce over them, but didn’t want to go the traditional Italian-style sauce route. Instead, I made a chili to go over it. We added diced tomatos, corn and beans into a pot. We then played add the spice that sounds good. Albany John helped me find the complete spice ratio, so I can’t even begin to tell you what was in it.

Albany John is great. He somehow manages to get just the right flavor, egging you on in just the right encouraging sort of way. Dad’s should take note on how he guides you into selecting the right spice and amount.

Albany Jane made cabbage and seitan. We all feasted which is the point of Shrove Tuesday. Lent has begun and its not going to be pretty. I’ve officially given up candy.

There’s a point to this rambly blog post. Here we go: Food is a fantastic way to show your family how much you appreciate the little things they don’t even know they do for you. I suppose my meal with a love letter to my adopted parents.

I surround myself with people who love food. After chatting with them for a bit, I can tell the sort of chef they are.  One of my friends cooks everything at about 550 degrees if he can’t just broil it. He’s an impatient cook, never making anything that requires time. I can fondly remember arguments he’s had with someone who actually works for a living in a kitchen on how things ought to be cooked. Another uses so much butter she’s the second coming of Paula Dean. Yet another describes her boyfriend as a french chef. They make complicated dishes I would fretfully decide were far beyond my meager skills.

I’m a semi-homemade sort of girl. I’d much rather make something quick and easy and enjoy the entertaining part, or bring something that was quick to prepare because my schedule as a retail manager is rather full and complicated. Even when preparing meals for the week to bring to work, I think of how I can doctor something up so I’m spending my entire Sunday afternoon in my kitchen and can rather be spending it in my living room watching Friday night’s Battlestar Galactica and Dollhouse. (Come on, the actors that play Helo AND Romo Lampkin are Dollhouse. Eyecandy alone makes it worthwhile to watch!)

Some of my favorite things to doctor up…

1. I love to add zuccini (usually frozen variety!) and fresh mushrooms to a roasted red pepper tomato sauce.

2. Spinach in alfredo sauce. I usually use frozen spinach. I should probably add here that frozen and canned veggies are my true love.

3. I tend to add fake bacon and apple slices to my sourkrought. Oh, and some white wine!

4. I make a simple chili that involves cans of diced tomatos, canned corn, and canned beans (black and kidney). I add chili pepper, garlic and onions. It doesn’t feel like I’m really cooking though, just doctoring stuff in the cabinets up.

5. Adding tofu to the ramen noodles! (I used to add chicken when I still ate poultry.)

For all the semi-homemade things I cook, one thing I will never buy pre-made is icing. For something relatively messy and sometimes complicated to make (double boilers for me are problematic at times), you simply cannot buy a good brown sugar icing to put on top of a chocolate cake… even one you made from a box.  The thing I will never made homemade? Humus. Not worth the effort.

As a sidenote, I spent last weekend with the family and will be spending this weekend with them as well. Look forward to a super family related food post!!

I think food is the greatest common denominator. Everyone must eat; it’s a biological necessity to consume nutrients. It’s cliche to talk about the weather, and once you get the basics out of the way, there’s not much else to chit chat about. After all, discussion about how upper level temps  can affect surface p-types is only really interesting for those who frequent the WeatherUnderground blogs. Once you get into talking about forcasting models, people begin to tune you out.  People begin conversations with commonalities. Just like we’re all subjected to the whims of the weather, we’re subjected to the fact that we’re animals that need certain strings of protiens, fats and sugars to survive. And believe you me, food is more interesting to most people than meterology!

Food brings people together. Don’t believe me? Watch two vegetarians meet each other. When Smilez’s vegan relatives came to town, we got some Chinese food. What did we talk about? You guessed it; we talked about places to get great vegetarian and vegan cuisine.  Family memories are seated around a dinner table. My folks rarely cook anything unusual or extravagant during the week, but if I plan of spending the weekend at home with them, you can be sure there’s lots of discussion around making a special meal we all sit down to share. We spend weeks debating on meals for Holidays like Christmas and Easter. Thanksgiving we talk about what we look forward to the most. (I love green bean casserole! And pie…)

Food cheers people up and makes for happy memories. Some of my favorite memories include the Sunday morning potlucks I’d run that would last until 10pm at night. We make sympathy brownies for wakes and funerals. When a new neighbor moves in, we bring fresh bread or cookies. We go on dates to restaurants, or cook meals for our loved ones.

Food brings us together.

Here’s a quick alert: Five Guys has opened a place up in Wilton, in the Price Chopper Plaza in front of the mall. I conveniently forgot my lunch at home today.

(There will be more on this topic, at a later date.)

My mother and I are sometimes more alike than we’d ever want to admit. I mean to say that we’re not very accomplished in the kitchen. (And, as an aside, I don’t even have her mad baking skillz.) Back when I was a child, my father would often go out of town for business trips. He was a real meat and potatoes kinda guy, so every night there was chicken, pork or steak, a potato and a veggie. When he wasn’t home, my sister and I would try to convince my mother not to cook and instead get us some fast food take out. She rarely ever buckled under our whims completely; we didn’t eat out too much. She would however make us popcorn and move the couch directly in front of the television so it was like a mini movie theater. When Dad was home, popcorn meant getting out the big and now awesomely retro popcorn popper, the oil and then bag of kernels. When Dad was home, popcorn was a thing to be done with fresh butter, grated cheese and salt and pepper.

The simplicity of tossing a popcorn bag in the microwave and waiting four minutes for hot popcorn was a novelty that we really only enjoyed around our Mom.

There was just one problem: As I got older and knew what good food should taste like, the less I liked microwavable popcorn. I subsisted on 100-calorie pack bags of popcorn because they were an easy snack at the office, and limited just how much I would eat… or waste. Then I met my good friend Alan who hands down makes the best popcorn ever. It seemed so pointless even to buy microwavable popcorn. I wasn’t about to bother my friends for popcorn at my whims and I wasn’t going to try and attempt anything that required oil and a stove-top. (Trust me, the people in my apartment building thank me for that.)

On a trip down home, my sister introduced to me something pretty amazing. She’d been strolling Wal-mart looking for a good nibbling item for movie watching when she came across Orville Redenbacher’s Naturals. We enjoyed the buttery salt and cracked pepper variety that night. I found that, once you reached the bottom of the bag, it was too peppery and my mouth burned from all of the black pepper.  Suffice to say, I wasn’t a fan.

However, I’ve been craving popcorn, satisfyingly delicious popcorn, ever since so I decided to give them another shot, but without the pepper. At the grocery store, I picked up the simply salted variety.

Wow! Without all the pepper, you could taste a real difference. Redenbacher claims that they use only 100% whole grain corn in their Naturals line, and I could definately taste a difference. It tasted, oddly enough, more like corn than many other microwavable brands do. The butter tasted like real butter, not in the least bit chemically, and I even licked butter off my fingers after I polished off the entire bag. The popcorn wasn’t overly salty – another petpeeve I have with other sorts, especially the 100-calorie pack lines.

It’s hard to find a real difference that I can describe in a way to make it seem different than other microwavable popcorns. Simply put, it just tasted like someone made popcorn in my kitchen using the kernels, the oil, butter and salt. And there in lies my joy: It tasted the way good food ought to without involving the effort my mother and I don’t put into the food we eat. Content with my popcorn, I decided to salute some old and good memories. I pulled my couch in front of the television, munched on popcorn and watched television tonight. If you really want to know, I watched House.

August 2017
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