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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: Writing

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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I should have known better than to plan a complicated(ish) meal like gazpacho and quesadillas on shopping day. That made no sense. Cooked the meatloaf and string beans instead. Also was critique night in which the thing I worked so hard on and is still so flawed was going to have its flaws discussed. Thus, the comfort food.

When I started school I told myself to make big mistakes. The kind that comes from taking big risks. Its so much easier to say that than to do that. When I handed the work in last Friday I felt so discouraged; but by Tuesday I was ready to hear what people had to say. Also much easier said than done. I still find it very difficult to translate critiques into forward motion. I think the critique confirmed what the strengths and the weaknesses of the piece were and I have a very crumpled idea of how to map out my next step but it is really, really difficult to get myself into the car. I wish getting critiqued was like filling an empty tank with gas, but it’s not. It’s more like taking your beloved old car to the shop to have the starter fixed and discovering the transmission is bad too. You fix it cause you need the car, but you really hate to do it and find yourself questioning if the damn car is really worth it in the first place.

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When we’re not lying ourselves, our children are making liars out of us. I just visited a friend with a new baby today who, though she has been yelling her head off for the past eight weeks, played the role of angelic cherub quite convincingly.

Sometimes I look at the blog and think – it’s making a liar out of me. I was always taught that lying was a bad thing. But I suppose it depends on the lie. A lie that’s told well enough, and often enough, and contains a portion of the truth can be very convincing. It can even become the truth if you tell it enough. It becomes your story of yourself.

The thing about the blog is that even I couldn’t help noticing it was telling a different story than I was. The pictures were so pretty – the food so tasty – how could it all be the product of someone who hated to cook? The blog gave me a different way to see something I didn’t know needed to be reframed.

Now how to connect that thought to mole is really beyond me. I’m just going to look at the beautiful, dark sauce and feel proud that I got another meal on the table be thankful for the family I shared it with.

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Making the beans tonight and thinking about the corn avocado and mango salsa I was going to make up myself, got me thinking about memorizing. I basically know how to make the beans because I’ve memorized the steps. Lately I’ve begun trying to memorize recipes because it dawned on me when I memorize a recipe it teaches me not only how to make that dish, but how to cook. Memorization is a form of internalizing knowledge so that it becomes part of you in a way that you don’t really realize until, say, you go to grad school and someone points it out.

Last week in my literature seminar, the instructor was horrified to learn how few of us (myself absolutely included) had any prose at all memorized. When forced, I could come up only with the opening lines to Dante’s Inferno, in italian, which I misquoted horribly. The correct lines would have been: Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita / mi ritrovai per una selva oscura, or, In the middle of the journey of our life / I found myself in a dark wood. We won’t go into what I actually said, we will settle for the fact that it was a fitting two lines of poetry for a middle-aged woman feeling out of her depth.

But my instructor was not appeased. “What will you do if you’re thrown in jail?” he inquired of us with genuine concern. He was right. What would I do? But more importantly, how could any self-respecting grad student such as myself not have made it a point to internalize the very best of the language I purported to write in? And so he set us the task of memorizing an entire page of prose which is much harder than it sounds. Easier, were the two lines of Edna St. Vincent Millay I’d wished I’d remembered in class: Safe upon the solid rock the ugly houses stand / come and see my shining palace built upon the sand.

I am still working on the prose, the opening to Man in the Holocene, by Max Frisch. “It should be possible to build a pagoda of crispbread…” I am hooked now, on memorizing prose, hoping that it will do for me creatively on the page what memorizing recipes is doing for me creatively in the kitchen.

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A last minute change to the meal plan because I didn’t go grocery shopping today; got sidetracked by a bad day of writing. The freezer was my friend. Pulled some leftover slow cooker pork out for sandwiches and made lemon coleslaw with red cabbage. I’ll try not to get too discouraged, in the words of the great Hoagey Carmichael, “Wish for a catch every day and you’re wasting a wish / For some days, there just ain’t no fish.”

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The pasta I made last night could not rightly be called carbonara because it had cream and because I browned the bacon and onions together for so long, that when I added the cream to the pan the sauce turned brown and looked more like stroganoff.

Every time I make this I tell myself I shouldn’t brown the bacon and onions at the same time because I can’t control the rate they cook at but then every time I just go ahead and put them in the same pan anyway to save myself the trouble of washing two pans. I can’t seem to break the habit. But since I got a rare complaint (read helpful suggestion) from my husband that next time I should brown the onions less (so they’d be less sweet) maybe I’ll finally change my ways.

I never really considered that the longer you sauté onions, the sweeter they get. I just always thought of browner as better. But sweet is not the right flavor for every dish. Once again, my cooking life seems to parallel my writing life. My husband gave me a neat little lesson in constructive criticism. Because he explained the relationship between cooking time and flavor I can use the information to improve my cooking instead of taking it personally. Cause that would just be silly.

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Making the Tortilla Soup tonight I followed the same technique I did last night: I read the recipe in advance to get the idea of the big picture and then only referred to it when I needed specific instructions. I noticed something interesting: the procedure for making the soup was very similar to the procedure for making the chicken indienne – brown the meat, sauté the vegetables, add the spices, add the liquid & seasonings, simmer. I’ve been cooking these dishes for years without ever noticing this.

I understand this is not an earth shattering observation. But it does confirm that the process of paying close attention while I cook in order to learn how to cook, is exactly the same thing that I’m doing at school by learning to “close read.” The close read theory is that by making simple observations of a text, a reader can learn to see how writers create prose. Close reading turns any book, essay, short story or poem into a teacher. The blog has become my “close read” of what’s in the pot. My kitchen is now a character in an ongoing dialogue about creativity.

I can already see, for example, how the discovery about the soup/indeinne will be helpful on the days I challenge myself to make up a recipe from ingredients I find at the store. With the technique in mind, I can experiment with vegetables, seasonings and flavorings and create my own dish. Thai coconut curry anyone? I can see it now: chicken, red peppers, green peppers, string beans, eggplant, cocoanut milk. Seasonings? I have no idea; I’ll have to look that up. But I do know how to make it: brown the chicken, sauté the vegetables, add the cocoanut milk, simmer. Nothing Unnatural about that, baby.

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Last night I accidentally cooked Zatar Chicken Kebabs for a vegetarian, but luckily, I served it with greek salad so she did not go home hungry.

My salad eating friend was kind enough to trade food for babysitting and my husband and I went to the movies –  a documentary about Gerhardt Richter. I was curious to see the famous painter at work – something told me there would be a lesson for a writer in it. I was not disappointed.

Richter makes his paintings in stages. Working on two huge canvases at once he first uses a brush to cover them with large swaths of color. Then, the seventy-nine year old gentleman takes a squeegee as tall as he is and covers his creation from top to bottom, burying most of what lies underneath. He does this over and over, changing colors, changing directions, changing his pace, his angle, using his full body weight to obliterate and create, obliterate and create over and over again. It was like watching somebody dance a painting into existence.

Richter had the confidence to let each layer disappear, knowing it could never be recreated. Destruction is part of creation. Change an trust are essential components of art making. I will tack the postcard of his giant white canvas above my desk to remind myself not to be afraid to attack what I’ve already created until it can get no better.

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Last night was another first. It was my first planned, unplanned meal. It was the day I left intentionally blank on the meal plan to be inspired while shopping. I have to admit I didn’t stray too far from what I know but I was in a very specific mood: I wanted to make a pink sauce, like vodka sauce, but with sausage.

It came out exactly the way I wanted it to; I was so pleased. I sauteed onions in olive oil, then removed the skin from five Italian sausages. Four of them I broke up with my fingers into small pieces. I wanted it to be like that great sausage you get on some pizza – not perfect slices of cardboardy tasting meat, but irregularly shaped, heavenly little morsels. The fifth sausage I crumbled, like ground meat, to thicken the sauce. I browned the sausage with the onions and then added vodka, cooked it down, and added more. After the vodka was mostly cooked off, I added one can of crushed tomatoes and some kosher salt. I served the sauce over fusilli with parmesan & hot red pepper flakes.

Lately I’ve been adding spices, not with a measuring spoon, but with my fingers. I’ve been getting a feel for how much I put in. Yesterday, when I wrote about the idea of using my senses when I cook, I left out the sense of touch. I think feeling the ingredients is as important as tasting, seeing and smelling them. Ripping sausage, pinching and sprinkling salt, helps me, somehow, to know instinctively how much to use. I honestly can’t believe how much my cooking practices have changed in two months, just by writing about them. Never has being wrong been so pleasurable.

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I am at least wise enough not to have photographed the peanut butter and jelly I ate for dinner during class.

And yet, I am not wise enough to let a day pass unremarked upon. I have set myself the task of writing every day and am not ready to abandon it. Although I cannot see how the ends will justify the means I am trying to learn to live comfortably with the unknown. It seems an essential part of the creative process. Dedicating a year to a bad idea seems at least a step toward understanding what a good idea might be.

The blog has already forced me to question my assumptions about how I like to cook; it is showing me how to be more creative and free in the kitchen. But the initial impulse for the blog was actually the very disciplined act of making a meal plan. I hope the same will happen with the writing: that habit and discipline will have unanticipated creative consequences.

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So it’s official, I’m going to try to change my ways. A tiny bit. I’ve been undermined by my own blog.

When I started the blog I was sure that the easiest way to get the cooking done was not to think about it. I thought I had mastered a brilliant strategy for how to serve dinner every night even though I didn’t like to cook. Meal planning and following recipes were my battle tactics. Then, in the act of writing about it I discovered that, in fact, my way was not the easiest way – even for me. I learned that on the nights I didn’t need to follow a recipe, I was more relaxed.

At first this was a source of great concern because I am not comfortable with change. (Is anyone?) But in the end it seemed ridiculous to avoid being more relaxed. There’s just no justification for that. So  I am going to see if I can nudge myself to learn more about cooking without recipes. Here’s the plan (because there always has to be a plan, I haven’t changed that much….)

I’m going to leave one night a week open on the meal plan. When I do the shopping, I’m going to allow myself to be inspired by some ingredient in the store and create a meal around it (Which I will then put on the plan. Again, I haven’t changed that much). It’s sort of like my daughter’s challenge for me to make dinner from what was in the house, only, I’ll have a much better “pantry” to choose from. The crazy thing is, this actually sounds fun to me.

I realized while I was shopping today that my plan keeps me from paying attention to anything other than finding what’s on the list. It’s really a silly sort of way to go through life. As an homage to my former self I am going to post in the sidebar my Meal Plan 101. I’ve had it written for ages but for some reason, I’ve never gotten around to adding it. It will be a record, of how the unnatural cook got her start. I’m not going to stop meal planning, but maybe, over time, I can adapt it so that I’ll grow as cook. One day, far in the future, I may even attain natural cook status.

Tonight we had leftover tomato soup with garlic broccoli and french bread. I finally doctored the soup to my satisfaction! I did it poorly a couple of weeks ago – too tangy, no flavor – so I tried to correct that with what I had around. I added sugar, fresh basil, marjoram, hot pepper and extra cream. Being willing to do it wrong and keep trying is the secret to all success in life, why I thought cooking was different I have no idea.

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Well, it was going to be another night off but everyone came home hungry from their long drive home so we had to improvise. We being me with a lot of help from my beloved. We had porcini ravioli in the freezer and some cherry tomatoes at the end of their life in the fridge. So I melted butter & olive oil, threw in the halved cherry tomatoes, and when they softened, added three huge minced cloves of garlic (it was the order of garlic/tomatoes I needed help with). I added salt, pepper and crushed red pepper and served with grated parmesan; it was quite satisfying. Thanks to being forced to write it down for the damned blog, I may even remember how to do it again.

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I don’t write like I meal plan. I don’t sit down and plot in advance how the piece will go (beginning, middle, end-wise) in the way I plot how the week will go (food-wise). Lately, in class, there have been hints about the flaws of this approach. Namely, if you don’t know where you’re headed, you don’t get there purposefully.

I’m conflicted. I want to lead readers purposefully toward a conclusion but if I know the conclusion before I write will it ruin the joy and discovery? Do you see less on a drive if you map it first? Well, I actually have some experience with that. Two years ago we drove across country and back. We had a broad plan for sights we wanted to hit, we knew where we’d start and end (home) and we knew what day we had to reach the middle (California). We plotted our route a few days at a time, but not the whole trip before we’d left. Once we were on the road we relied heavily on maps, but we rarely took the main highway. We took the scenic byways as much as possible till they lead us to grand sights.

Maybe that’s the trick. A loose outline – beginning middle end – some key moments – and then, get there as beautifully as possible. It seems that with cooking and writing I need to improve in opposite directions. To become a better cook, I need to learn to plan less; but to become a better writer I need to learn to plan more.

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So keeping this blog at the same time as I’m in grad school is proving fruitful. (Note food allusion.)

I am starting to see that my slavish devotion to recipes is a way of not learning. Learning new things takes time and I have never really been interested in taking the time to learn how to cook. I thought I was getting around the problem by following recipes; I could follow instructions and voila! dinner would appear…

But then I started writing about the process of following recipes and made the unfortunate discovery that it was more relaxing to cook when I didn’t follow recipes. It was upsetting because I still didn’t want to devote the time to learn to cook. Then the lessons of grad school kicked in. It turns out that learning to write is really about learning to pay attention to what’s happening when you read. Reading isn’t something new I have to add to my life, I just need to keep doing the same thing, but differently. And now I think it might be true of cooking: I already do it, if I can pay attention to what’s happening when I cook, I can become a better cook.

The blog is basically a way to pay attention to what goes wrong (and right) and use the information to improve the process. To wit: tonight’s pizza. On Week 2: Sunday Night I lamented my inability to roll out pizza dough. I researched to no avail. Next time we had pizza I made sure to plan it for a night that my husband would be home to roll it out; but I couldn’t keep that up for ever. Plus there was something about knowing I would have to write about the pizza, knowing how boring it would be to  write about how I couldn’t roll it out – again – that made me and my husband pay attention to when rolling the dough worked and when it failed. (Unfortunately for him he’s gotten dragged into the thing now)  And guess what? He figured out a technique that worked! (Remember, he’s the natural cook in the family.)

1) Don’t oil the pizza when you put it in the bowl to rise – oil the bowl that the dough is rising in. The idea is to touch the dough as little as possible and an oiled bowl allows you to flip it out onto the rolling surface without touching it.

2) Drown your work surface in flour before tipping dough out. Don’t be shy. Don’t be stingy. Don’t be obsessed with not wasting things. Flour the surface with gusto, then tip the dough into the middle.

3) Dust the dough & your hands with flour.

4) Punch the dough down & use your knuckles & fingertips to start pushing dough out into circle. Here’s a video of a lady who does this well.

5) When you’ve gotten as far as you can with your hands, use a floured rolling pin to keep expanding the circle. The rolling pin will take it to about 1/2 the size you need.

6) The next step is tricky and I haven’t mastered yet: Lift dough up on closed fists and allow gravity to do the rest of the work stretching the dough out by turning the dough around your fists in an ever widening circle.

I didn’t get that last step quite right this time but I’ll be sure to pay attention next time my husband does it – and I’ll know what to look for. Even still, tonight was the most successful and least stressful interaction I’ve ever had with a ball of dough!

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Writing an unsatisfying post is like eating an unsatisfying meal: it has to be done but it is vaguely disappointing. What to do about a night like last night if you are compulsive enough to write every night but not inventive enough to find something, really, to say?

The best thing is to write better the next day, satisfy the intellectual taste buds with heartier fare. Will meatloaf do?

The first time I made meatloaf for my husband (long before he was my husband, I imagine) I made it the way my mother did: flat. My mother liked her meat well done enough that it could be fairly called burnt. So when she made meatloaf she would make a loaf and flatten one end into a thin rectangle, like a small padded envelope, just for herself. After my father and older sister had both left the house, my mother and I stopped bothering with the loaf part because we both preferred the caramelized, slightly blackened taste of our flat loaf. We ate it this way for so long that when I made it for my husband it didn’t occur to me it was a strange thing to do. He was mildly horrified by the result and it was one of those times when I was forced to look back on my childhood at something that seemed perfectly rational and normal and say, “Oh, was that weird?”

So I’m back to loafy meat loaf although I suspect I’d still love it flat. I’ve adapted my mother’s recipe only slightly, adding one egg and some breadcrumbs because otherwise, in its loaf form, I can’t cut the slices without them falling apart. I also added bacon because, as porkfest demonstrated, there’s nothing that can’t be improved by adding little pork.

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I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t not write something about last night. We went out to dinner and there’s nothing to report and there are no photos and I thought: don’t write if you have don’t have anything to say; it’s okay to break the rules. But I can’t. I can’t break the rules – even my own rules. It’s terrible. I want to break the rules, but often I set up rules to do things that scare me (like writing), or things I’m not good at (like cooking). Once I get going I’m so pleased with where the rules have taken me I don’t know how to get rid of them for fear that if I lose the rules, I’ll also lose the thing they created.

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This week’s meal plan was based on the concept of a nine-day week. I stretched it because my second semester of school started and I didn’t want to grocery shop until Thursday (after my classes were over). On school nights I try and keep dinner as simple as possible – usually something from the freezer. Tonight we had mac & cheese (leftovers) and garlic broccoli. The garlic broccoli is John’s recipe and I thought I knew the technique but I was wrong. The broccoli he makes is blackened and garlicky but mine was mild and overcooked. One of the nice things about the blog is that it forces me to correct mistakes. Normally I’d fret, do nothing and screw it up again. It could go on that way for years – but now I’ve discovered Command K.

Command K is the link button and I love it. I knew I’d want to turn the words garlic broccoli into a link and even as I was cooking, I was writing out the recipe. As things turned out, it was a recipe for bland, mushy broccoli. So over dinner John explained the technique again, and after dinner he corrected the recipe for me. Next time, I’ve got it in writing. In school the professors often talk about imitating writing you love as a way to learn how to write. I suppose it’s the same with cooking. Recipes are a form of imitation. I’m imitating cooks I love (in this case literally) until I become one myself.

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Yoga. It’s another thing, like meal planning, that I like the benefits of but don’t enjoy while I’m doing it. I like yoga because it makes me strong, and I dropped ten pounds and I get sick less. I also like it because I’m a beginner, and in yoga its always okay to be a beginner. Yoga is a way to practice being okay with being uncomfortable. I need that kind of practice. I’m a 44 year old woman, back in school, trying to start a new career writing in mid-life. I’m scared out of my mind.

Every week that I make it to yoga once, that I write another meal plan, is proof to myself that I can change.  That I can find a way, within my own limitations, to do something I want to do but don’t consider myself good at. I need the constant reminder of the little things (yoga and meal planning) to build courage for the big thing (writing). Every time a new meal plan gets tacked on the blackboard I think to myself, you’ve been doing this for five years, you didn’t think you could do it, what else can you do that didn’t think was possible? Holding uncomfortable poses and making a list of what to eat once a week seem a ridiculous way to go about changing careers, but I know in my heart they’re related.

The blog seems to be adding a new level of detail to my perception that I can change. Tonight’s dinner, pesto, was made from basil that I bought for another meal but only used a few leaves of. I actually thought ahead to use the rest for pesto before it went bad. I said at the outset I never remember to check the refrigerator for produce to see if it can get used up before it rots. But just saying it, writing it, made it seem stupid – so I didn’t let the basil rot. And the side dish, Candy’s Vegetables, I said I never get inspired by ingredients at the grocery store. But then I was wandering around trying to figure out what vegetable to serve with the pesto, wondering how much green I could take in one meal, and I saw a lady holding an eggplant and got inspired. Yes, inspired by an eggplant to try an old recipe I hadn’t made in years. And it was so good! The pesto and the vegetables were a perfect combination. And so it seems that the blog itself a vehicle for change. I had no idea what the purpose of it was, but by doing it, I’m finding benefits I wasn’t expecting.

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I did it again. I burnt what I was cooking because I was writing about it. A whole batch of chips. The point of making our own nacho chips is that it’s cheap and easy. Only it’s not cheap or easy if I have to do it twice. I know one of these days the camera is going to fall in the food. It’s only a matter of time.

The chili nachos were made from leftover chili. The recipe is from Cooks Illustrated and long ago John added a twist which is now standard operating procedure. He made ancho chili powder by toasting dried ancho chilies and grinding them into powder with our old coffee grinder. So in addition to regular chili powder, this recipe has ancho chili powder. The chili takes about an hour to prepare and then you can leave it on the stove to simmer or you can throw it in the crockpot if you need to leave house. It usually feeds the four of us for at least three meals.

Tonight we added a new condiment, red jalapenos from the bodega next door. City life is full of inconveniences but the trade off for all the noise and for never being quite sure where your car is parked is that when you realize, two minutes before dinner, that there are no jalapenos in the house the solution is steps away.

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I was going to write a really nice post about the romantic associations I have with tonight’s meal, Pepperoncini Pasta  – and then I burnt it. Playing scrabble. There was an incident over an ‘x’ that involved crying. There are so many ways to get distracted in the kitchen. I like to blame my children and they are a constant distraction, but really, I’m so easily distracted by my own thoughts that I can’t blame them for most of my mistakes in the kitchen. I think cooking well, like anything else, takes focus and I find the kitchen an incredibly difficult place to do that. My mind is always on the next thing I want to do, or the thing I stopped doing in order to cook, or what I wish I was doing instead of cooking. It is rarely completely on the task at hand and this evening was no exception: my beautiful bacon and onions turned black. Not all of them, not irretrievably black, but annoyingly so. I am curious if writing about cooking will help the problem or exacerbate it. Yesterday I didn’t hear the timer buzz for the zucchini bread – I have a sneaking suspicion it was because I was writing about it…

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I didn’t feel like posting tonight, but I did anyway. That’s how I feel every time I sit down to write a meal plan. I don’t feel like it, but I do it anyway. In fact, the whole act of creating meal plans taught me that I possessed this discipline. It took me three years before I was confident I wouldn’t give up. I decided that three years was the time it takes to form a new habit.

The blessing of forming a new habit, a good habit, is that it suggests that other new habits can be formed. Like, writing shall we say? It seems unrelated but it’s not, quite. In order to write successfully, I have to be able to sit at the computer, every day, whether I want to or not. A few years ago I would not have believed myself capable. Now I’m not so sure. Now I think that I can sit down, write this post without a clear understanding of what the hell it’s all for, but with the faith that given enough time, I’ll figure it out. Well, it’s only week two. That’s the working premise anyway.

Tonight I tried something new, mac and cheese from the Barefoot Contessa. I’ve had good luck with her recipes: gazpacho, penne vodka, pecan shortbread cookies. This one had a video of her making it so I could watch it before I tried it. I definitely like to learn that way. The comments of people who’d tried it led me to make some adjustments: switching the amounts of the cheddar (cheaper cheese) and gruyere to save money and decreasing the amount of nutmeg and salt. We all liked it but I have some questions. Like, is it really necessary to dirty an extra pot by heating the milk before it gets added to the butter and flour? And, how am I supposed to know how many quarts a baking dish holds? I got myself into some trouble trying to split the recipe into two dishes so I could put half in the freezer to save for another night.

Next time I think I’ll skip the gruyere altogether and opt for something less fancy, like jack cheese to go with the cheddar. And maybe even use a less sharp cheddar. My mac and cheese tastes tend toward old-fashioned comfort food versions. I don’t really want a grown up version. I still don’t think I’ve found the perfect recipe but at least I’ve learned a little bit about what I’m looking for.

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