[Disclaimer: This is post is utterly unrelated to my gap year and is the essence of blither blather. Also, it is for my friend Anna, who has been trying to convince me to break my own rules and post about something other than my gap year. This is the second time in the last 2 months that I’ve broken my own life principles for Anna, sort of. So, Anna, be happy.]
I have a confession to make: I like to cook.
Perhaps that does not seem exactly earth-shaking or post-worthy to you. Let me explain. If you had asked me four months ago, even four weeks ago, if I liked cooking, I would have responded with a decided, firm, “no.” But here we are. And I like cooking.
I suppose it has been sneaking up on me for the past nineish months. Whoa. It’s been almost a year. Just about three fourths of a year ago, the parental unit, after reviewing my second semester senior school schedule, concluded that I did not have enough to do. I required some further occupation. Of course. They had said the same thing my junior year…and my sophomore year…and my freshman year, for that matter. Freshman year I held the proud position of being the only girl on the soccer team whose sole reason for trying out was that her parents forced her to. Sophomore and junior year I became the only homeschooler I know of to ever infiltrate the public school system during the school system during the school year to…wait for it…volunteer for several hours a week. Now, granted, after playing soccer that one season, I did continue to play of my own volition for 4 or 5 seasons more. And, though I cannot say the same thing about volunteering in that elementary school, I did come home with some amusing stories. In any case, at the beginning of the second semester of my senior year sometime in January 2011, my forever-devising-some-scheme-to-occupy-Claire’s-“extra”-time parents presented me with a choice: cook two meals a week or get a job. In the end I think I technically did both, but never you mind about that. A proper job seemed so inconvenient (still does). So, I opted to cook, even though I could safely and truthfully say then that I did not like to cook. Not one bit.
Somehow, right at the beginning, I stumbled upon The Pioneer Woman. I wish I could remember how I found out about her, but I can’t. That bugs me. Anyways, The Pioneer Woman is this really awesome lady who lives on a cattle ranch in the middle of nowhere in Oklahoma, homeschools her kids (coincidentally through the same homeschool group/curriculum/thingy my mom has been using for several years now), cooks, takes fantastic pictures, and blogs about all of it. Besides posting just about her own cooking, she came up with a website called Tasty Kitchen. Tasty Kitchen is like a collaborative, online cookbook with pictures! I love it! From the start, I found most of my recipes on Tasty Kitchen. Also, through The Pioneer Woman’s website, I discovered other popular cooking blogs. I followed links to websites to links to websites, bookmarking as I explored. It became my accidental, unspoken goal to never cook the same thing twice (only did that once so far) and never to use a physical cookbook (also only one time). So, I compiled folders and subfolders full of bookmarked recipes to try, mostly from 18 or so websites that quickly became my favorites. As of today I have cooked 160 different recipes, including that one, solitary recipe from a cookbook and the dessert I made for supper tonight. Naturally, I have kept track of which recipes I like and which I don’t, so in case I someday need or want to make one of them again, I know right where to find them.
After a month or two of cooking, I did start to enjoy hunting for new recipes to try. I have probably spent way too much time sifting through pages and pages of blog archives and virtual recipe boxes. But, for quite some time now, I have loved every minute of it. And then, about three weeks ago, I realized I like cooking. That was right around the time when I started making up my own recipes. There’s something about envisioning a combination of flavors and ingredients that you think will go well together, throwing them together, and cooking them however you think is right, that is just, plain fun, especially when what you whipped up actually tastes good in the end!
The other interesting part of this whole cooking thing has been reading up on eating philosophy and cooking science and such. I have only read three – In Defense of Food (“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”), Food Rules (In Defense of Food, condensed), and What Einstein Told His Cook (the science in and of cooking) – but they have all been worth my time. Additionally, they, especially Food Rules, gave me an excuse to do three shocking things in the past few weeks. (1) I stopped buying bread and started making it myself. (2) I stopped buying cereal and made four different kinds of granola. (3) I stopped using white flour and ground my own red wheat berries. Did I mention that in addition to cooking, I have done nearly all the grocery shopping for the past year? Yup. Talk about power. Really, though, those three things might have happened without me reading those books. The books were merely a cover, an excuse, an explanation. We have been eating tofu and whole wheat flour – and other, more normal foods – the entire year. Speaking of tofu, even the boys agree that it is not too bad when cooked the right way. The whole texture thing is just mental anyways.
Looking back over this year of cooking, I have observed something slightly strange and disturbing. I cook like my mother. Yet again, that may not seem odd or sanity-endangering, but really, it is. You see, my mother likes to try weird foods sometimes. Not always, just sometimes. Like this one time, when she made some salad/salsa thing with melons, blueberries, onions, and cilantro. That is classic. There have been numerous other instances, but that is not the point. The point is, I have become my mother. I made this pizza with arugula, fig jam, and prosciutto. And sweet potato and leek soufflé. Who tries crazy combinations like that!? My mother. And now me. All my life I hoped and fully expected that I would never cook weird things. But, I found, when you are trying to come up with something new, tasty, and healthy, sometimes your brain embraces the most bizarre options. And they turn out to be delicious (as both of those unusual dishes were). I cook with tofu and whole wheat pasta! Mom doesn’t even do that. I ignore everyone’s wishes and complaints and do it anyways! I’m crazy!
So, now, as a consolation for wading through all of the excessive blither blather above, here are some of the recipes that I most enjoyed cooking and we most enjoyed eating and a few of my own recipes, just for fun [shameless plug. *ahem*]:
Sweet Cinnamon Kale Chips
Lemon Ricotta Souffle Pancakes with Berries
Beet Risotto With Goat Cheese
Homemade Wheat Thins
Butternut Squash Lasagna
Roasted Tomato Soup
Roasted Eggplant and Tomato Couscous Salad
Pear Arugula Salad with Dates and Parmesan
Sweet Potato and Spinach Farro Rissotto
Spiced Cashews and Dates Granola
Sundried Tomato and Rosemary Quick Bread
Don’t worry, people, I shall soon be back with more normal, mundane information about my Peru preparations, around which I am doing my procrastination dance.