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The Unnatural Cook

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

Tag Archives: Natural Cook

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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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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In an attempt to make up for a vegetable-less meals this week we had a four vegetable meal! We made zatar chicken kebabs (vegetables 1 & 2 – onion and red pepper) with cucumber salad (3) & garlic broccolini (4). The broccolini was an impulse purchase at the store. I’ve learned to follow those impulses lately instead of ignoring them. It’s the only way to move from Unnatural Cook to Natural Cook.It is bizarre to have to “learn” to “follow your instincts” its supposed to be, well, instinctual. But there it is.

I’m one to believe in the power of skill over talent so I’m willing to do what it takes. This time it took buying the broccolini first and then figuring out what to do with it. Which turned out to be blanch it for two minutes then saute it in a pile of minced garlic. My one mistake was not letting the garlic brown long enough before I put the broccolini in the pan. I didn’t realize how much water it would release, thereby turning my saute into a sort of unwanted steam. Blanched garlic doesn’t pack quite the kick that fried garlic does, but no one complained.

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All right, last night was a first. My 9 year old twins planned, cooked and cleaned up the entire meal!

Because they are on spring break they were forced to do the grocery shopping with me this week and when I asked if they had any ideas for the “surprise” meal, they volunteered to make it themselves. Here’s the menu they came up with: pasta with chicken apple sausage and garlic broccoli in red sauce & a salad with romaine, red peppers, sliced mushrooms & cherry tomatoes in a lemon vinaigrette.

Here’s what they have to say about making dinner:

Clem: “It was really fun, but it was hard to get the tomato paste out of the tomato can and Finn thought it was disgusting when he cleaned out the can.”

Finn: “I can’t believe you have to do that much work every night.”

The food was delicious and the Unnatural Cook is looking forward to many, many meals cooked (and dishes cleaned) by her very natural little cooks.

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My previous success went to my head; I tried making pesto without a recipe. The problem was not really making pesto without a recipe. I mean how wrong can you go with six ingredients: basil, walnuts, olive oil, garlic, salt & parmesan cheese? The problem was that I got cocky about it and didn’t really pay attention to what I was doing. I just rushed around throwing things in the cuisinart.

One of the things the blog has taught me about my kitchen foibles is that I’m a rusher. In a frenzy to be over with the cooking I don’t pay attention, and food, like small children, requires a lot of attention. And like small children, food wants you to pay attention with all your senses. But in my blithe desire to prove I could go recipe-free I forgot this cardinal rule and payed absolutely no attention whatsoever. Which was why I poured an entire ball jar of walnuts into the cuisinart and pressed pulse without really considering if I wanted to use all the walnuts. They were just there and I poured them. It took copious amounts of parmesan cheese, salt and oil to bring the pesto back, I can tell you.

I guess the difference between the Unnatural Cook who started the blog and the Slightly- More-Natural Cook I’m becoming is that I won’t go back to the recipe next time, I’ll just go slower.

And the salad idea was nice, fresh mozzarella, cherry tomatoes & olives. That was pretty Natural-Cooky of me.

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Flowers from my husband, dinner cooked by my friend Pippa who watched my kids while I had a job interview. I am a very lucky woman.

Pippa is a wonderful natural cook and she made us all Shepherd’s Pie for dinner. She’s actually British so I paid close attention while she cooked. (Actually, I blabbed on and on about how the interview went). But I did notice that she is much more generous with the Worcestershire sauce than I am and next time I make Shepherd’s Pie, I will be too!

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Taxes trump blog. It’s the governments fault I’m behind on my posting.

Wednesday night was a bit of a watershed evening for a few reasons:

1) I successfully used a mandolin. I once took a one night cooking class in which the teacher tried to teach me to use a mandolin. “It’s so easy! I love my mandolin!” she exclaimed. It’s so dangerous, I’m going to slice my fingers off, I thought. I was unable to keep the thing steady or make the even slices the tool insists upon. The instructor had never met a student who couldn’t work a mandolin. But then we bought one of our own. And it has a nifty little notch that keeps it firm across the top of a bowl. Using a mandolin horizontally instead of vertically is all I needed. “It’s so easy! I love my mandolin!”

2) The dough rolled out in less than a minute. I don’t know if using whole wheat dough makes the process smoother but I didn’t even need a rolling pin; I was able to spread it with knuckles & fingertips alone.

3) About half way through preparing the meal I realized I’d made it up. I wasn’t following a recipe. I just had the idea that whole wheat pizza with potatoes, rosemary, goat cheese & spinach would be good. That, my friends is the way a natural cook thinks. Who knew?

4) I took the pizza out of the oven when I smelled the crust burning. I know, you think this is very obvious. But I am the type of cook who used to think, “It says 20 minutes, it’s only been 10, it can’t be burning.” I would ignore the smell, even to some extent the smoke, until it was unsalvageable. This time I checked it, saw the one on the bottom was cooking too fast, took it out & finished cooking the pizzas on the top rack, one at a time. When I said at the outset this cooking thing did not come naturally to me, I was really, really not kidding.

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