Six hundred and eighteen

Tips on common sense cooking (lessons I learned the hard way over the past week)

Tip #1: pay attention when using sharp knives

It’s the first time I’ve used a knife since deciding it would be fun to stab myself in the hand full force, hitting the muscle, bleeding and hurting like hell.  Although I do consider myself a much-improved cook, I’ve got a long way to go.  And no, I didn’t stab myself on purpose or think it was fun.  I was trying to fit a big knife into it’s sleeve; I didn’t realize the sleeve was open on the end, the knife got stuck, I pushed harder, it slipped in through the sleeve and out the end, into my hand.  Yes, ouch!  And yes, it was very stupid!  Alas, these kinds of injuries do happen when using sharp knives.  I am recovered, although I do have a large bruise on the palm of my left hand still, one week later.  And I’m a little more tentative while cutting today.

Moral of the story: don’t have your hand behind anything you’re pushing a knife into.

Tip #2: cut onions before putting on makeup that is not waterproof

I just looked in the mirror to find black makeup running down my face, after crying from cutting onions.  Enough said.

Moral of the story: buy waterproof mascara.

Tip #3: when you’re having someone over for dinner, plan ahead, or else you’ll end up serving them almost rotten vegetables

I am absolutely THE WORST for this.  I always think I have all the ingredients in my house to make something, then find out as I’m starting to cook that the pepper I had in the fridge that I bought a couple of weeks ago is feeling pretty mushy, and I’ve run out of rice, but have some quinoa in the back of the cupboard.  I always end up making something with the all the ingredients I have, but never quite what I set out to do.  I’m getting better at this, but it’s a challenge for me.  (Don’t worry friends, I don’t ever serve you completely rotten vegetables)

Moral of the story: check the quality of veggies in the fridge before planning to use them in a meal.

Tip#4: wearing white white cooking something red is not a good idea

I’ve had to change so many times because I’ve splattered on my clothes.

Moral of the story: wear an apron – always.

Why I still keep cooking despite my silly mistakes:

I know many of these seem like common sense.  And yes, they are.  Sometimes my common sense is overshadowed by the many thoughts rolling around in my head.  Sometimes it’s hard for me to fully concentrate on one task when I’m thinking of my next blog post, or some big idea I have, or what I’m doing the following week.  I’m slowly learning that when it comes to cooking, it’s best to pay attention completely to what I’m doing. I think this might be why I’m learning to love it: it’s one place where I am forced to get out of my head and just do it.  Cooking is peaceful for me (when I’m actually focusing), and that’s why it’s worth a stab in the hand, or tomato sauce on my white blouse, or mascara running down my cheeks.

Six hundred and four

Cooking is more fun drinking red wine!

I learned to cook over the past few years, and I don’t think I’m too bad at it now.  I’ve figured out how to mix ingredients.  I’m really good at a few basics, and am confident to experiment with new ideas.  One thing I have figured out, though, is cooking is more fun while having a glass of wine.  (Not too much wine, of course, or then it’s not pretty.)

I am running around at the moment getting ready for a dinner party I’m having.  I worry I don’t have enough food.  I worry I made too much. Other people are bringing food, so hopefully it works out.  I worry I forgot to clean something.  I worry I won’t be ready in time.  Yes, I know, I worry too much!  My friend just told me to stop being a “mama”!  The glass of wine is helping.  And my apron, which I love.  I feel very 50s housewife in it.

This is going to be a short post, because my kitchen is still a disaster, and I need to finish prepping, get myself ready and beautiful, and then charm my guests.  Ahhhh!  Wish me luck!

Five hundred and seventy-seven

Oops! Thursday instead of Wednesday post…

Days seem to blur together right now for me.  One day turns into the next and I forget whether it’s Wednesday or Thursday.  I’m busy trying to get the book finished so my agent can get me a publisher!  I’m working on the editing phase now and I find it presents whole new challenges.  It’s hard to delete my words and get rid of sections.  It’s difficult to figure out what’s best for each paragraph, then each section, and finally the fluidity of the whole thing.  It’s hard to choose what is important and what isn’t.  I’m also trained as a journalist, so therefore I tend to write using the clearest, fewest words to express what I need to succinctly.  I’m not a writer who adds in description words, but I find that when writing a book I have to do this.  I like to leave it up to the imagination of the reader, but my agent is keen to have me use more colourful language.  I’m learning so much every day that it fills my brain and leaves little room for figuring out what day of the week it is.  I’m so happy I have a calendar that I write everything down on, or else I’d forget to show up to work!

Cooking disasters

I do somehow still find time for baking, though.  I find it very stress-relieving.  Sometimes it goes well, and sometimes it doesn’t.  This week belongs in the latter category.  In the wake of my success last week with my Pumpkin Pie Brownie ‘Cupcakes’, this is proof of how the opposite outcome also often happens in my kitchen.  Here is a photo of my attempt at gluten-free, vegan Pumpkin Banana Muffins with quinoa flour, which I couldn’t even stomach eating one of because they were so gross (I brought them to work and my co-workers told me they weren’t that bad, although I’m pretty sure I saw them throwing out everything but the bite they took in my presence):

My cooking and baking have come a long way since I didn’t know how to bake a chicken breast a couple of years ago, but I still have my regular disasters.  I guess you can’t learn if you don’t make mistakes once and awhile!  And at least the act of baking does the job of balancing out my brain when I become too wrapped up in the book – whether it ends up tasty or tasting like bitter banana pumpkin mush.

Five hundred and seventy

Pumpkin-spiced

I am sipping my homemade pumpkin-spiced latte (recipe here), listening to Edith Piaf, with a disaster of a kitchen around me.  I have spent the day baking.  I’ve heard many people are sick of hearing about “pumpkin-spiced” things.  If you are one of those people, don’t read any further.  The following paragraph is full of the virtues of pumpkins, baking pumpkin-spiced goodies, drinking pumpkin-spiced beverages, and generally enjoying pumpkins.  How can you not like the bright orange globes?  Even if you don’t like the flavour, they are pretty to look at and make great centrepieces.  They are great for baking everything from pies to cakes to cookies.  I even found a recipe for a vegan macaroni and cheese that uses pumpkin.  The seeds are delicious roasted, plus they are so fun to carve for Hallowe’en.  And what little girl didn’t wish a fairy godmother would come and turn a pumpkin into a carriage for her like Cinderella?  To all you pumpkin-haters out there, I stick my tongue out at you!  (Yes, I know, very mature.)  You only have to put up with pumpkin-spiced things for a couple of months.  Deal with it and stop your whining!

My mouth is watering thinking about the Pumpkin Pie Brownie ‘Cupcakes’ (recipe here) I get to devour shortly!  Mmmmm.  I’ve taken a few photos that I’ve included below.   I got the recipes from my favourite recipe site: OhSheGlows.com.

Pumpkin Pie Brownie ‘Cupcake’

Pumpkin Spice Latte

A silly photo of me trying to take a photo of myself baking!

Three hundred and forty-seven

My cooking skills

“My goal is to make it thirty days.  My dream is for this to change my habits of eating badly, not taking enough time for myself, and not cooking enough real food.” – from the beginning of my first blog, 30 Days of Home Cooking – April  1, 2010

Yesterday I wrote of reading my posts and reliving some of the events that have happened this year.  I also got to reading some of the original blog that started the idea to do a year of social experiments – “30 Days of Home Cooking“.  The pursuit of cooking skills.  The change in my eating habits to benefit not only my health, but my way of interacting with food.   It was April 2010 when I taught myself how to bake a chicken breast, cook with leeks, make pizza dough from scratch.  I spent one month eating only home-cooked food.  It’s a cringe-worthy read for me – did I really get that excited about making pasta without the jar of pre-made sauce and talk about smoked meat on bagels as home cooked?

My cooking skills have developed enormously since I didn’t know how to make a soup or pasta sauce from scratch two years ago.  I would actually call myself a cook now.  I now cook at home most of the week, eating leftovers the others nights, or sometimes eating out (but not nearly as often as I used to).  I rarely use pre-packaged items, instead opting to make whatever it is myself.  This past year in particular I’ve really learned a lot about what to do in the kitchen.  Cooking 30 Countries taught me about about international food.  Vegan month taught me how to cook healthy meals.  And Life at the Poverty Line taught me how to do it all cheaply.

What I find the most enlightening, however, of all that I’ve learned about preparing food is not to forget the simple things.  I was so excited during 30 Days of Home Cooking when I was hungry at work and my co-worker taught me about avocado on toast.  Why I had never tried that before is beyond me.  And my raw vegan foods post in October really hit home all the nutrients in simple, fresh foods.

I do love to cook a good curry now, or throw together a delicious soup from leftovers in the fridge.  But I also recognize the value in a simple snack of avocado, lemon juice, and a little salt and pepper.  My dream two years ago was to change my eating habits, take time to cook, and eat more real food.  I’ve definitely accomplished this, and I couldn’t have done it without all the research and experimentation I did this year.

“Avocado”

“Peeling Potatoes” (an oldie, from 30 Days of Home Cooking)