Thursday, January 30, 2014

in a pot, not a pan

My 9 year old niece is very BUSY. She has a ton of interests and likes to do projects that often involve inventing or making something. She takes pieces of cardboard and bits and bobs she finds in the cupboards and makes them into little invented board games. This one time, about two years ago, she cracked open a whole bag of almonds from their shells and candy coated them with melted chocolate. All on her own. We didn’t know what she was up to until she came in from the backyard with a bag of shelled almonds and a hammer. This other time I was talking to her and she said “my pants ripped, so I had to sew them.” Sure enough, there was a crooked line of tiny stitches up one of her pant legs. I told my sister I was impressed and she said “Yeah, me too. I wasn’t even home.” So I guess what I’m saying is that once she gets and idea in her head she HAS TO DO IT. Anyhow, that’s not what this post is about, I just like those stories.

This one time my dad and I were hanging out with my 9 year old niece and she wanted to make lemonade. My parents happen to have a very prolific lemon tree so she got to work picking, cutting, and juicing lemons. Then she requested simple syrup because she knows that just regular old sugar won’t do. My dad volunteered to make it and I started looking up a recipe on my phone. My niece cut in with “Wait! Listen, here’s how you do it! You just take a certain amount of sugar and your own amount of water and you put it in a pot, not a pan, and then you cook it!”
My dad and I thought that was about the funniest thing ever, until my dad accidentally used confectioners’ sugar and burned it and then had to start all over again, but by that time my mom was home and she made the simple syrup WITHOUT MEASURING ANYTHING, which basically meant that my niece was totally RIGHT—she had SEEN my mom put a certain amount of sugar and her own amount of water in a pot, not a pan, and then cook it.

My sister (not, incidentally, this 9 year old niece’s mom) is one of those people who only ever wants cookbooks for her birthday and Christmas and spends hours in the kitchen trying and perfecting recipes. She’ll make things like homemade pot pie with homemade crust, or chicken tikka masala, or steak with twice baked potatoes and it’s all deliciously intimidating. “This recipe is so EASY,” she’ll say, zesting an orange while simultaneously stoving something and ovening something else.
I don’t like reading recipes or following recipes, or doing anything that involves more than about six steps, so I much prefer instructions like my niece’s simple syrup.

I’m not good at cooking. And I don’t like to cook. I don’t know why. I just DON’T.
Actually, I think it might go back to my feelings of inadequacy from this post. I guess… I kind of subconsciously (semi-consciously?) feel like if I don’t cook well and often enough, that I’m not doing it right and I just shouldn’t even bother. And it’s this sort of thinking that has resulted in 31 year old me to subsist primarily on buttered noodles, snacks, takeout, and an eclectic combination of whatever my current tastes are.
There was the tortilla soup phase. And the lentils with quinoa phase. The Israeli cous cous phase. And every once in awhile I get re-jazzed about getting farm fresh fruits and veggies delivered to my apartment and I’ll sign up again. For the first few boxes I’ll be all LOOK AT ME AND MY EGGPLANT HASH and OH NO BIG DEAL I’M JUST SAUTEEING SOME KALE LIKE A MFING BOSS. And then eventually I won’t cook it all up on the first day it arrives and I’ll have rhubarb and leeks spoiling in my fridge and the emotional weight of a thousand rotten dandelion greens on my shoulders.

I don’t have a solution. At work I sort of graze all day long- cheese, sliced meats, cut up veggies and dip, crackers, nuts. I also have recently decided not to let myself be hemmed in by this ‘time of day’ nonsense, because really who cares if I eat my leftover enchiladas at 10AM and then have a waffle for dinner? Nobody, that’s who. So leftovers or a bagel or nothing for breakfast, then grazing grazing grazing, and then something breakfasty (a waffle or eggs), buttered noodles, or takeout/snacks for dinner. Geez. When I write it out like that it looks terrible. But! Did I tell you I’ve cut back on soda on weekdays?

I’ve lived by myself for about 5 years now, so the majority of the food I prepare is just for me. And me doesn’t care whether I have a wholesome, made-with-love dinner or a glass of milk and a veggie roll sushi from the corner store. I just… I don’t want to go to all the trouble of making some big dinner if it dirties every pan in my home and the person eating it (me) doesn’t sufficiently appreciate it.

I would LIKE to have a couple of go-to recipes. Sometimes I do come home from work and I have nothing prepared and I’m out of eggs and milk and I don’t feel like eating noodles, so then I just have whatever I can scrounge up from my cupboards and it ends up being fairly pathetic. And what if, someday, it’s not just me eating the food I produce? I don’t envision myself becoming some domestic goddess or even a cooks-for-pleasure type person like my sister, because I’m just not going to. And if put to the task I CAN make food. I mean, I know how to put meats and vegetables into my oven and have them come out decently-tasting, and I can make my sister’s tortilla soup which is just this side of heaven, but I guess what I’m looking for is food that I can make easily and with only a couple of steps that will have the end result of looking something like a whole MEAL. Someone who can roast a chicken might roast that chicken and then make some rice vegetables to go with it. And I CAN do that, but it takes so LONG and it dirties so many DISHES and it’s just ME eating that it ends up feeling like too many steps and ugh, I’ll just have a waffle again.

Last week I made some pasta I like.
I don’t want to jinx it or get ahead of myself here, but I think, I THINK I have come up with something I might actually put into the rotation of Things I Cook, and actually keep it there.
Here’s whatcha do. I’m not including pictures because nobody really cares, right? Okay, so. Step 1. Buy some noodles and some red sauce and some alfredo sauce. The alfredo sauce should come in a smaller jar than the red sauce. Step 2. Cook the noodles (in a pot, not a pan). Step 3. Heat up the sauces both together. Step 4. Drain the noodles, pour some olive oil and the sauce mixture over the noodles. DONE. Delicious. Step 5. Duplicate and elaborate. No big deal but I totally added mushrooms and red peppers to the batch I made the other day and I FEEL like I could branch out to adding more veggies and also, say, chicken. It doesn’t so much change my day to day life (leftovers for breakfast, grazing grazing grazing, whatever for dinner), but it IS a food that I could prepare for another human person and they could eat it and be full and it doesn’t include any traditional breakfast foods or takeout or microwaving.  So here we are. I am 31 and I can now make a slightly more interesting pasta than plain buttered noodles, with the skill and instruction level of a 9 year old. PAT ON THE BACK FOR ME.