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The Unnatural Cook

a chronicle of weekly meal plans from someone who can't just throw a meal together

There’s a new vegetable in my life: broccoli rabe. In the past I found it too bitter, but twice now, in the part of Brooklyn that is farther from hipsterdom and closer to the ocean, I’ve been to local Italian eateries that serve it so garlicky and tender that I got the idea to try it at home on a sausage sandwich. Let me just say that it tasted as good as it looks. The combination of the slightly bitter, garlicky green with sweet roasted peppers and onions was divine. The recipe from Epicurious worked really well although some stalks remained a bit too woody to eat – not sure if I need to trim better or cook longer. Either way, broccoli rabe and I will definitely be going on a second date .

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Lazarus was dead four whole days until Jesus brought him back. I only made it two.

It’s just that the pine nuts and tomatoes and mozzarella looked so pretty in the bowl I had to take a picture…And then it seemed a shame not to use the picture. And then it occurred to me that when I made up a new recipe I’d want to write it down. And then I though – why not just put it on the blog?

So here it is. Tonight’s dinner was Pasta w/Pesto, Cherry Tomatoes, Toasted Pine Nuts, Sauteed Red Onion and Mozzarella. It was actually inspired by an attempt to use up leftovers in the fridge (pesto & red onion) before they went bad. And it was so good I decided that in addition to leaving one night blank on the meal plan to be inspired while shopping, I was going to plan one meal around using up leftovers before I shop. Nifty, huh?

So I don’t know what this means. I’m going to try to avoid any more grand pronouncements since the last one went so poorly. Let’s just say I hope it ends better for me than it did for the guy who brought Lazarus back. Luckily I have a much smaller following.

 

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So I’ve rebelled against my own blog.

I got a few days behind on the posting and then one night I was cooking and enjoying myself (which came as a surprise to me) and suddenly the thought of stopping to take photos ruined the pleasure (the pleasure I was surprised to be feeling in the first place) of the moment. And it dawned on me – I no longer wanted to prove I could cook, I just wanted to cook.

I’ve never wanted to cook before. My about page says so. And now I do.

I thought I’d keep the blog going for a year – you know, symmetry and order and all those things that make me feel virtuous but which I never quite achieve. Instead I think I’ll keep enjoying cooking – and if I stop enjoying it, maybe I’ll take up the blog again!

In the meantime, thanks to everyone whose followed it, welcome to those of you who just found it – it’s still full of great recipes and tells of the slow and uncertain progress of an unnatural and uncomfortable cook toward a less unnatural and uncomfortable one. It’s an ongoing project which, for the time being, will return to the confines of my kitchen.

Happy (and I mean that non-ironically) cooking to all.

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Didn’t think we’d be eating at home tonight – there were readings in Manhattan and openings in Bushwick to go to and the family was splitting up in the various boroughs. But then I decided to ditch my reading and go with everyone to the art opening and so we had a quick camping dinner in the back yard: hot dogs, coleslaw, baked beans and potato chips! Like everything else this week it was last minute and worked out just fine.

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This is an old standby that I haven’t made in a while: Yellow rice w/Chorizo & Chicken. It was the best one I’ve ever made and I attribute that to the blog – I was able to adjust the recipe now that I’ve learned more about myself as a cook.

First, I finally broke the habit of trying to cook meat and vegetables that cook at varying rates together! So I cooked the meats separately, set them aside then cooked the vegetables. It was relaxed and actually, strangely, takes less time than trying to cook them together because I cook each item at a higher heat for less time rather than forcing myself to keep turning down the heat because something is burning and something else isn’t cooked enough!

Second, I got the family size Goya Yellow Rice box because I had a note on the recipe to double the rice. That also made for really nice proportions. Finally, I improvised (totally out of character for an Unnatural Cook) and threw in some leftover green olives I had. The olives plus some Louisana hot sauce and we had a nice little picante thing happening.

 

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The blog has really gotten away from me. I’m having trouble both finding time to write and figuring out what to write about.

It’s the middle and I hate the middle. One of my goals for grad school was to learn to get past the middle. I’m always excited at the beginning of a project. I can marshal fantastic energy to get something started. But then, when the dream of what I want to create runs into the reality of the faults with my creation, I have a horrible habit: I give up.

In order to prepare myself for my middle problem, I did something silly before grad school. I grew my hair out. It was about 2″ long and I wanted it to be almost to my elbows. When I was younger I had long, wild, curly hair. I thought maybe, for a woman starting over in middle age, it might be fun to recapture some of the spirit of my romantic youth. Growing my hair out required patience through long stretches of middle where I looked like – there is no other word for it – a soccer mom. Coming, as it did, in my mid-40’s it was painful. But I made it through, and now (with the help of some Clairol Natural Instincts #12) I have the hair of my youth.

But here’s what I’ve realized. Discipline is only 1/2 the battle. I have taught myself the discipline of sticking with a difficult project, of writing every day, of finishing a draft I’m struggling with. But creative discipline requires a flexibility to change the original idea to fit the reality of the outcome and I’m struggling with that in both my writing and the blog.

I’m afraid to stop posting every meal, every day, because I’m afraid if I give up on the original conception, I’ll lose the lesson of whatever it had to teach me. But I’m also afraid that if I’m unwilling to change the idea of the project I might be missing out in a different way.

I don’t know how to resolve the conflict. I also don’t know how to get this back to meatballs and spaghetti. Except to say that meatballs and spaghetti was one of the first meals that made me realize that I am more relaxed when I’m not using a recipe which was my first inkling that although I took pride in my Unnatural Cook status, it wasn’t necessarily serving me. I might, in fact, be happier as a Natural Cook. My suspicion is the thing that you don’t know you need to learn is more important than the thing you set out to learn. Which would mean that someday, I might have to be willing to be flexible and change my m.o. with the blog…..

 

 

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