Monday, November 30, 2009

I hope you had a lovely Thanksgiving!

Deciding that hanging out with family is equivalent to having surgery without anesthetic, I didn't do as much as I would have liked. Mom took over in usual tsunami mode and really the entire family are food terrorists anyway. What is the point? Mom has acid reflux and extremely high cholesterol, Uncle P has diabetes, Grandma has an ulcer, Dad has various allergies and can't have too much salt, and frankly I tend to have a trumpet butt after eating heavy food. No idea if anyone will be willing to sleep next to such a trumpet forever or want to be related to these people. Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday filled with happiness and goodwill, but now it just gaseous. So sad.

I managed to make what I thought would be butternut squash gnocchi. I made it in the past and I remember the mess of squash flour in my hair and on my sweater and just everywhere. It was quite similar to the Pierogi Dough Explosion of 2007. This time I made smaller batches but for whatever reason it required much more flour that I thought possible. This squash might have been more watery then the previous one I used. I couldn't form the balls properly and made all kinds of crazy shapes instead. As with last time I didn't think ahead of how to get the gnocchi from the table to the pot on the stove so I had to peel them off, add more flour and rush over to the stove. What a mess. When I did this before my roommate S helped. We were both rushing from one side of the kitchen to the other and several gnocchis did not make it safely to the pot but fell to their smoooshed dooms on the floor.

Luckily that did not happen again. Instead I figured I could keep a cookie sheet next to the pot of boiling water and set the gnocchis ready to boil there. Well being that I am such a culinary genius I did not realize the cookie pan was touching the pot of water. With incredible stupidity I grabbed the cookie sheet with my bare hands to replenish the load and burned the hell out of my left hand. Burned it to the point of screaming and rushing around to find gauze and neosporin.

My mom helped me finish the rest of the gnocchi but she has no patience for such projects and made gigantic doughnut sized gnocchi. We cooked these and ended up throwing them away.

Despite being able to only use one hand I managed to make a sweet potato pie as well. I put in way too much filling and the crust was undercooked. This also was thrown away after only a few tasted it.

Everything my mom made tasted great so I have a lot to learn about Thanksgiving, even though both her and my grandma were up with stomach aches all night.

Some comments from the dinner were:

"I'm thankful that Uncle so and so isn't here tonight."

"That's cold. Shame on you."

"It's true."

"I wish Grandma could remember her recipe for the yeast dough with the tangerines and cinnamon. Those rolls were the best thing in the world to come home to."

"I vemember I show Avivitcha how do, and put flour on her nose and ve laugh in kitchen all day."

"Yeah yeah. I don't remember."

"You remember the rolls don't you? And the poppyseed cake? Heaven"

"I don't remember having those for Thanksgiving."

"We can't eat that stuff now anyway. Too much butter."

"Vonve in a vhile is ok."

"How did you learn about Thanksgiving? Someone must have told you about it right?"

"I don't remember us doing Thanksgiving for years and years after coming to this country."

"No. You rong. You no vemember. A lady at vork telling me and I do. I do only one year after ve come here. You often no vant sit at table. You go out."

"You were a bad daughter. You never listen."

"Shut up asshole."

"Remember when I had a catering gig at the private residence where I served food to unbelievably rich people? I actually walked around a huge table carrying hot, hot platters and doling out portions to 20 people. All these ladies who weren't particularly skinny refused the mashed potatoes. I was wondering why bother putting on a show? The potatoes are too much for you at Thanksgiving dinner?"

"I would have eaten seconds and thirds and say mmmmmmm over and over right in front of them."

"Yeah. Well they must want to eat it and they're purposely denying themselves just to make it seem like their healthy on this holiday? I wonder if they know how much butter goes into everything else?"

"Is funny. Why they no vanna eat? Potatoes good for you."

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Saturday Night

It's Saturday and I am so exhausted that I am sitting around in stretchy pants watching movies. I must have been half asleep writing the last post but I'm going to leave it as is. Just finished two spoonfuls of peanut butter with Nutella. Willpower is non-existent.

Is this pathetic?

Here is something I don't get. In the last week at my new office there were two cakes brought in to celebrate different occasions. I did not have any cake because I happen to think sheet cake from the grocery store is GROSS. In addition to a monstrous headache, the amount of sugar frosting they put on is enough to give anyone type 2 diabetes. And for what? If you're going to give yourself diabetes you might as well enjoy the better things in life.

Speaking of, I am trying to plan and simple inexpensive Thanksgiving dinner. My choices are: Turkey, (obviously) butternut squash gnocchi, sauteed kale, and.....? I don't know what else. I like sweet potato pie but no one else in the family does. Stuffing and various other vegetables give everyone stomach aches so I'm not going to bother going to the trouble just to have indigestion all night.

If you have suggestions I'd like to know............


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Leslie Mackie Lied to Me

Sometimes recipes are bullshit. I think it's because the cooks either don't want you to really know their secrets or they want you to go out and buy their goods instead of making them yourself. Hrrummph.

Leslie Mackie is the owner of the Macrina Bakery in Seattle. It was one of my absolute favorite places to go. The item I absolutely loved in the bakery was the Squash Harvest Bread which I attempted to make from the recipe in her cookbook.

Here is the first instruction: Preheat oven to 375. Spread walnuts and pecans on a baking sheet, and pumpkin seeds on another baking sheet and toast for 15 minutes. Toast pumpkin seeds for another 5 minutes.

Does anyone know what happens when you do this? You burn everything. It becomes charred and the entire house stinks for hours. Fun. Of course I started this project in the first place because I was in a foul mood and needed to calm down. Didn't happen.

Damn you walnuts!! Why are you so expensive? Why did you ruin my day? And you pecans! How dare you!

The garbage can suffered a thrashing and did that little swirl dance where it nearly falls to the floor but was caught in time. My mother came into the kitchen at some point and started doing something behind me and I bumped into her a few times. She made the highly logical suggestion that I should have shaken the nuts on the baking sheet a few times while they were toasting. I responded, "Will you get out of my way please!?!"

I made a second attempt but no longer had the pecans or walnuts needed. Instead I toasted almond slivers and pumpkin seeds at 325 for 10 minutes and they had a nice smell and flavor afterward. It ended up being a big hit so I made another one for friends of my parents. It's always nice to be able to give something away that you know tastes good.

Next I tried Guatemalan Hot Chocolate Bread in her recipe book.

Grandma took one bite of this and said, "It needs whiskey. Or cognac maybe."

"How much?"

"Mmmm. Two shots."

I like the way she thinks. Despite these almonds being nicely toasted, the bread lacked flavor overall and was quite dry. It needed cinnamon in the batter, not just on top and more moisture all around. In addition to the booze

Grandma decided that I should add oil and baking powder, neither of which was in the recipe. She is a big conspiracy theorist on recipes. She believes that no one should share recipes and that if someone gives you one then they left something out on purpose. I love to watch the food network but she hates it. She thinks that they are using fake food and they never taste anything they make.

I told her that I thought both of these recipes were pretty straight forward but didn't work right. She gave me the whole practice makes perfect speech and then told me a fabulous story.

After the war she was charged with all the cooking while her parents went to work. This meant that she had to cook for 9 people because she was the oldest girl. When her sisters got older of course everyone worked together. She even claims one of her sisters was the truly brilliant cook out of them all but I don't believe it. Anyway, her mother would often tell her to do things that she wasn't sure of how to make. She didn't want to disappoint anyone so she would try. The first time she made rice she thought that she had to stir it the whole time. She always stirred other things she made and didn't realize there was any difference in this. So she stirred and stirred and the rice turned blue. She had no idea what she did wrong and pretended it was fine. When her mom asked her what happened she simply said, "I made rice."

I made the best of this situation by lightly toasting the chocolate bread and adding some butter. I am happy that I made these attempts but I have to admit disappointment. When you read of something that sounds so utterly delectable like Guatemalan Hot Chocolate Bread, you really want it to be good. I believe that sneaky Leslie Mackie lied to me. I love her bakery so much that I guess I want to bring a little of it into my kitchen.

Do some things just taste better because you didn't have to make them? When you think of how often people go out for breakfast it's almost funny. Omelets and toast and hash browns, who can't make that well at home? Then again who doesn't like a lovely omelet brought to you while you sit and chat with friends.

I will try to make other things from this book, but I am more looking forward to going in for brunch.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Twilight Zone

It has occurred to me today that I might be in the twilight zone. I am living in an area I moved away from two years ago and today I started a job that I previously quit. Surely tomorrow I will wake up in my small home in Portland with a yard and a dog and my two kids and friends will be coming over for Friday night dinner and I will serve butternut squash lasagna with goat cheese and light cream sauce with steamed broccoli and red wine and poached pears with cinnamon ice cream for dessert.

What is it that I do for work in Portland? Hmmm. I know what I don't do. I do not ever enter anything into Excel, especially not the exact same things into five different Excel spreadsheets. I do not ever avoid answering a question for fear of backlash and office drama. Pretending to be stupid would never be a necessity. I never care whether anything is printed on white or pink paper. I don't have to answer to people that have no idea how to spell or communicate in the first place. I don't have a code to enter the bathroom. My backpack and purse do not need to be inspected. I do not have to wait one month for my first paycheck. I do not work for people who are fired on my first day there.

Thursday, November 12, 2009


I love fall. I love pumpkins and Halloween decorations and moody weather and leaves changing. Here in the Chicagoland area we've been blessed with lovely warmish weather lately. I haven't been doing much cooking.

Ok. Well that's not exactly true. I made a cornbread that completely stuck to the pan and fell apart. I made tasteless tofu burritos with overcooked zucchini. I made hard boiled eggs that were actually soft boiled.

I think part of the problem I have run into is that the kitchen I am using is my mother's. I have previously established that my family loves clutter and so I often have trouble finding a bit of counter space to work on. I also have to dig through tons of kitchen gadgets and pots and pans and go through every drawer just to find the one pan I might need. Sure the kitchen might look nice but is it usable? Are we going to end up on that show Hoarders?

Mom and I often have power struggles about every little thing. I will tell her that I intend to make turkey chili the next day and lo and behold she has bought and already made enough soup and stew for two families before I get my chance to use the kitchen. My turkey ends up going bad and the fridge has no room for additional experiments.

The trick to being here is to make something that can be eaten immediately and doesn't require a lot of prep. Here is my first Spaghetti Squash dish and it actually turned out nicely. I can't believe that I have never made this before. It was delicious! This is now one of my new favorite foods. As soon as this was done I went out and bought another one.

I brought it downstairs for Grandma to taste. To her this is total American cooking. Squash in general is not something she would ever buy or attempt. She is leery of food like this and after a small bite decides that she might get a stomach ache. She thanked me for the sqvash and gave the dish back.