Grenouilles and Other Dishes

No matter what I set out to learn, everything is centered around books of one kind or another. They may be filled with cello music or foreign language or pictures of people signing ASL or delicious recipes. My personal library, which is slowly spreading to every room of our house, has Beauty and the Beast sized aspirations. Sure there are plenty of resources online, but for me, there is no more comforting teacher (or more effective self-soother) than the bound pages of ink covered paper in a book.

cooksbooks

Unfortunately, my book addiction can sometimes overwhelm my goals, as the acquisition of resources distracts me from the practical work of learning. Sometimes a certain find can inspire me to action, other times a particularly bracing volume can rattle me back to reality, and in this particular case, the kitchen.

During Spring Break this week, I’ve been treasure hunting at various Half Priced Book locations around town. Have I cooked a single meal? No. No, I have not. But I got my comeuppance when I walked into a rarely visited store and sat down to peruse the cooking shelf. A glossy, textbook-like tome caught my eye. When I pulled it from the shelf I saw a bowl of pasta beneath the title The Herpetologist’s Cookbook. It didn’t quite register at first, and then I looked closer. There was a FROG sitting in that pasta bowl.

frontcover

Sure, I thought, SURELY this is just a misguided play on… something. Something not at all amusing to people who are not herpetologists. I flipped the book over in my lap to read the back and clear things up. They were SPLITTING a lizard. A LIZARD.

backcover

Remember that time my cookbook wanted me to pop a pigeon? How desperate I was in that moment to go back to those beautiful, by-gone days of culinary innocence and simple disgust. Whatever horrific part of the human brain compels one to look upon the source of revulsion was very much at work as I flipped through the pages with my mouth open.

First came the salamanders. That’s the icky gicky lizard, y’all. In case you were under any illusions that it was some freakishly odd choice of moniker for an obscure English pastry.

salamanders

Then like some nightmarish witches’ grimoire came the frog AND TOAD recipes. I mean, I’ve at least HEARD of frogs’ legs. But a TOAD? I live in Texas, y’all. Those enormous blobs of brown and warty flesh have to be avoided like the plague on the sidewalks when nights get warm. And should your teacher’s heart feel bound to pick one up and give a brief zoology lesson to your kiddos, they pee on you. Riiiiight down your arm. This is the main thing I think of when I consider a toad: urine. Mmmm. Yummy.

frogsandtoads

Apparently things were ordered by size, because the final chapter began with a detailed butchering chart of the meat cuts on an alligator.

gator

Color me shocked that this book ended up on the shelf of a dilapidated used book store, though I shudder to think it may have gotten any use before that point.

That’s it for me though. I’ve learned my lesson. I’m taking a break from the bookstores and getting my tail back in the kitchen. Where I plan on cooking up something delicious…

And DEFINITELY vegetarian.

 

Stir Fried

After a nice long weekend of freedom from the predestined disaster of me in the kitchen, I was back at it Monday. All the shopping was done over the weekend, I actually had all of the ingredients and DIDN’T end up with 4 dozen eggs in my refrigerator. I’m trying to move away from the (albeit easier) pasta type dishes, because after having my fitness freak of a bearded chef filling my belly, I’m just not used to the heavier stuff.

I decided that stir fry chicken and vegetables would be on the easier end of recipes and easier on my belly. This of course meant that I would face my nemesis. Raw (I just threw up in my mouth a little bit) meat. There is something that I deeply appreciate about a well cooked meal which arrives looking in no way like the creature from whence it came. And while I’m not headed out to the backyard to ring chicken necks, I’m going to venture to say that raw breasts are a little too close to the beast itself. I cracked open a Shiner before I even attempted to pull the meat out of the fridge.

After a few sips, I opened up the pan cabinet to find the skillet I wanted. After digging through the pots and pans and lids and various and sundry loud kitchen implements (please send help, Container Store!), I stood up it was right in front of my face. On the stove. Dirty. I’d like to pause here to say, I didn’t leave it there. And I’m not naming any names, I’m just saying that there are only two adults of cooking age in this house. Moving on. I picked up the skillet (I keep saying that because I just like that word– skillet!– but honestly maybe it’s just a pan or a… something else kitcheny. There are pictures, you be the judge) and turned to the sink to wash it. Unfortunately, the dishes have been going through a small industrial revolution and when their urban area ran low on space, they started building upwards. We have skyscrapers, they have faucet-scrapers. It became abundantly clear that I needed some musical back up and to pay a little more attention to my bottle of Shiner. I sent the girls upstairs to play and put on Beyonce’s Lemonade. After unloading and re-loading the dishwasher, I was finally able to wash the skillet and begin cooking. At this point it was 6pm and the natives were coming in to inquire about food with such regularity that the evening’s musical pairing had to be switched over to Johnny Cash.

dishes

I pulled out my vinyl gloves wondering briefly how much a positive pressure hazmat suit might cost and then reluctantly turned to the fridge to get the chicken. I can’t even get into it, but the chicken made it to the pan which had a healthy coating of coconut oil and eventually turned a color that didn’t turn my stomach. Once the breasts looked mostly cooked, I checked the recipe– time to add the vegetables. I went to the fridge to get the carrots and green beans and realized: oh yeah. Carrots have to be washed and peeled before they’re chopped, and green beans need to be washed and snapped. Clearly, I’m just valedictorian of pre-planning in my little cooking school.

beanprep

I was at least wise enough to move the pan (skillet? metal cook container?) off the heat while I worked on the veggies. I quickly took care of the carrots and then washed the green beans. With the first snap, I was in my grandparents backyard, sitting at the table snapping beans with my Mammaw while my Pappaw picked more fresh veggies from their large garden. In the midst of this reverie as my fingers made quick work of the beans thanks to long muscle memory, I smelled… burning?? I took the dang pan off the heat! I lept across to the stove and found that the chopped garlic had burnt to the bottom of the pan like gooey charcoal.

I pulled the breasts out and scrubbed the char off the bottom of the pan. In went the veggies (and I’ll have you know that I DIDN’T catch the broccoli on fire in the microwave thank you very much) with some newly chopped garlic.

chicken

Next up was slicing the chicken. I reached down as if it was a loaf of french bread (something I have FAR more experience with) and immediately burned my fingers. Apparently grabbing a piece of meat with your hands that has just come off the stove isn’t in the Cordon Bleu textbooks. The more you know…

beerskillet

Eventually, everything found its way back into the skillet, and I got dinner on the table (and just a shade past 2 hours from when I started!) It was actually really good. We topped it with coconut aminos (a soy sauce substitute) and a little teriyaki sauce. The girls ate it up, though my little on a little reluctantly. Eric loved it. And I had seconds. Definitely keeping this one in my apron pocket. And maybe I can cut prep time in half on the next round! Maybe.

finishedfry

Lenten Penance

On Ash Wednesday, I was talking to my dear friend and she mentioned that she was making broccoli cheese soup for dinner. I was thrilled, because I had planned on making soup for dinner in observance of the day, but hadn’t yet managed to pull out a cookbook to look for a recipe. Because broccoli cheese soup is one of my favorites, or maybe because anything edible sounded good at this point in the afternoon, I said: “I’ll make that too!” She quickly told me the ingredients I’d need, and with a lovely insouciance added, “I just kind of wing the measurements.” I loved it. LOVED IT! I, too, would wing the measurements. I also needed to run to the store and buy the ingredients, because I had to leave to pick up the girls in 20 minutes. Yes, I waited that long before deciding on a recipe and going to the store. In my defense, I’m doing better, because I went to the store moments BEFORE pick up instead of after, and to be fair this wasn’t really a recipe.

After I got home with the girls, I looked at the vegetable broth and the cream and the BAGS of shredded cheese I’d bought and realized: “WHO AM I FREAKING KIDDING?! I have no IDEA how much of any of this to use.” I pulled up the interwebs and looked through a few recipes before finding one that had at least most of my ingredients. Right there at the top of the chosen reference recipe: “One stick of butter.” This is ALREADY my kind of recipe. I noticed that the first line in the instructions said to start cooking the broccoli and then sautéed the onion and garlic in butter. So I poured some frozen broccoli into a glass bowl and added the amount of water suggested by the bag, and then tossed the whole stick of butter into a pot while I chopped onions. I am VERY proud to say that I chopped the heck out of those onions and I didn’t lose any nails or finger tips. Witness my ability to adapt and improve.

There is no better way to start dinner than with butter, onion, and garlic. Even I know this. The smell was intoxicating. However, I was concerned because it already looked… well… soupy. There was just a LOT of melted butter happening. As I was pondering this, I started to smell something burning. I stirred the onions faster. They didn’t look burnt. The smell got stronger. I moved the pot over to see if something had spilled onto the burner of the stove. Nope. Suddenly a flicker from the microwave caught my eye. I yanked open the door, and there was the broccoli… ON FIRE. I pulled it out and set it on the stove top. Tips of tiny, blackened broccoli buds smoldered. Deciding this was probably precisely why kitchen shears were invented, I just snipped off the charred edges and turned my attention back to the “soup.”

broccoli.jpg

Still puzzled, I checked the recipe on my phone. Hmmm, the next step appears to be “use the remainder of the butter” to make a rue. Well… that explains things. I started making the roux. Which sounded VERY French, so I just relied on genetics to carry me through, and to be honest with y’all, my roux was exceptional and smooth and creamy. Bien sur! So I’m basically having a trophy engraved for myself this weekend is what I’m telling, y’all.

roux.jpg

After I finished the roux, it was time to deal with the onions which continued to soak in two cups of pure cholesterol. I looked through the cabinets for inspiration and found a colander. I figured: if you can drain beans, then you can drain butter off of onions. I mean, it’s only ridiculously expensive, grass fed Kerrygold butter. Why not wash a full stick down the sink?

No use crying over strained butter… though I have the sad feeling I’m not going to have the funds to go get tea this week.

From there, onions went into the (still amazingly-fantastic-thank-you-very-much) roux and then whole whipping cream… Annnnnd suddenly, I’m worried this was perhaps a case of letter of the law, but not the spirit when it comes to Ash Wednesday, but we’ve come too far now, y’all. There is no unburning the broccoli.

Finally it was time for the shredded cheese. Alllllll the shredded cheese. Some lovely extra sharp cheddar. It turned the soup a rich (probably unnatural) orange, and I let it bubble until it thickened.

cheese

I proudly presented bowls of it to the girls (as Eric was out for the evening with the band). I laid it on thick: “Y’all are gonna LOVE this! It’s cheese! And broccoli! Y’all love cheese and broccoli!”

My 11 year old took a bite and the 4 year old followed along like a little shadow. Her tiny little face looked across the table, caught my eye, and she solemnly said, “No.”

“What?”

“No.”

“What does that mean?”

“This not something good.”

“But… cheese! …broccoli!”

“Yes. I do not like that there is cheese…. between the broccolis.”

I looked over at her big sister who was still primly taking bites and congratulated myself on winning her over once again. She looked at me and asked quietly: “Mom, is it okay if… I’m done?”

“Did you not like it?”

“It was okay. It just.. I don’t know.”

“Maybe if you tell me what you didn’t like about it, I can work on it, or try and avoid the part you didn’t like next time.”

“Okay. Well… I guess the thing is… the part I didn’t like was… well… the taste.”

I’ll just be calling to have that engraving on my trophy changed from “Roux” to “Rue.”

Update:

Eric got home from band practice and heated up a bowl for himself. It could’ve just been his sense of self preservation or possibly the fact that he had fasted all day, but he said it was amazing, even better than one of his favorite broccoli cheese soups from a local restaurant. I’m going to go with his critique. What do kids know about fine cuisine anyway?  

soup.jpg

Second Attempt

I said I would make dinner on Mondays. It’s 5:15pm, I’m in hour two of helping my 5th grader with homework, and I haven’t been to the store. Plus, the cookbook I’m flipping through is apparently going to make me do something horrific to a pigeon. That isn’t a typo. I didn’t mean chicken. I wish to all that is good and holy I meant chicken, because I think we can all agree that pigeons are the rats of the avian world. Why would I ever want to… pop(??) a pigeon? It’s called “popping”? Everything is wrong with this, and I’ve lost my appetite.

pigeon

Fine. Other people probably still want to eat, though if I told them about the pigeons, I would probably solve the whole needing to make dinner problems. Next cookbook. I can’t even look you in the eye right now, Tim.

The first recipe I opened to in the Williams-Sonoma book was Chicken Souvlaki. Doesn’t a souvlaki sound like a breed of dog. Oof! Too soon on the heels of the pigeon situation. Next! I flipped past the soup section. Tomorrow is Mardi Gras, and there will be time enough for soups during the long days of Lent. Oh hey now! Pasta! Now we’re talking! Spatzle? That sounds so delightful, I don’t even care what it is… except that apparently you need a spatzle maker with which to create it. It’s a little late in the day for a kitchen store run. Okay, here we go: Roman-Style Fettucine and Chicken. This involves a bottle of wine. It’s not the meal I wanted, but at 5:45 on a Monday night, it’s the meal I need.

I’m still learning to navigate the grocery store. Usually Eric does this part, as usually he does the cooking. I mean, I basically know where things are, but things like say… capers. How does one categorize those? Maybe I shouldn’t judge myself too harshly on this particular ingredient. There is probably some childhood trauma lurking just below the surface. My maternal grandparents loved to make gumbo, but even more, my uncle loved to tell us kids that the capers were crab eyeballs. I would pick mine out and hide them in a napkin.

The girls and I finally made it out of the store, and I even remembered to bring all the groceries into the house. I put on my brand spanking new food prep gloves, because yes, I was a vegetarian for several years, not because I had some deep altruistic love of fluffy animals (though to this day I’ve never eaten veal or lamb), but because I read some horrible sci-fi book about prion disease (don’t ever Google this) and then found it utterly traumatizing to touch or eat meat (especially ground beef) for several years after. After putting on the manual prophylactics, I placed the four chicken breasts into ziplock bags and grabbed the meat hammer. Is it called a meat hammer? Meat cleaver? But cleaver sounds sharp… Now I’m singing Maxwell’s Silver Hammer in my head. Meat tenderizer! Got there! See, I can have a culinary brain! If there is one thing I’ve learned from my bearded chef, it’s that you beat the snot out of the meat before you cook it. So I got out some Monday aggression. And generally, I’d recommend it.

I tentatively placed the raw chicken into my skillet and popped my latest audiobook onto the bluetooth speaker. Next, I twisted open the white wine (nothing screams class like a screw top, y’all) to celebrate getting past the meat handling portion of the evening, and was taking my first sip as my tween daughter wandered passed looking for tidbits to nibble, she stopped and raised an eyebrow at me.

“What?”

“Are you… listening to Dracula while you cook our dinner?”

Judgement at every turn. I tell you what.

dracula

Eric came home while the chicken breasts were browning and I had just pulled out the red, orange, and yellow mini bell peppers to chop. While I was tempted to be impressive, because my husband chops ingredients like the Iron Chef, I took it nice and slow and was feeling pretty pleased with the pretty flower like shapes that fell in three colo– OW!!!

“What did you do?? Are you cut??”

“No! Kinda of! I think it just got my thumb nail.”

“Why was your THUMB in there?”

“Because I am amongst the lucky few species who possess an opposable thumb with which to hold things?”

“No! I mean your thumb shouldn’t be near what you’re chopping. And WHY are you holding the knife like that?”

He nudged me aside and tried to show me the correct way to chop. Once again moving with the speed of a Food Network poster boy. I attempted to mimic his hand grip.

“Not like that!”

He moved around behind me and put his hands over mine. I can’t begin to tell you how helpful it was… no really, I can’t. Because all I could think about was every cheesy movie ever where a guy tries to teach a girl to hold a baseball bat, so that he can have an excuse to move in on her, so I was laughing too hard to really pay attention. But eventually the vegetables got cut, and I only sliced through one more nail in the process. No blood, no foul– amiright??

peppers

Everything went into the pot to simmer and was smelling pretty darn good if I do say so myself. Also, I learned that sometimes you WANT the little burned black bits on the bottom, because you scraped them up and they give flavor to the sauce. Clearly all those meals I burned were really just my culinary precociousness coming through!

pancetta

“Don’t you want to start cooking the pasta?”

“Nah. This has to simmer for 20-30 minutes. I’ll start it in 10 so it doesn’t finish to quickly.”

In ten minutes, I put the enormous pot of water on to boil. Ten minutes later, the first timer went off. The chicken looked pretty done, but still not so much as a bubble in the pot. That’s fine, it said up to 30 minutes. Ten more minutes pass, still no bubbles. I turned off the burner under the chicken. Once it eventually boiled and the linguini was cooked, I decided that it would be a brilliant idea to do the stick to the wall test. Clearly, this requires an Italian wall. Though I must say, it stuck to the countertop where it fell quite nicely.

wine

I put everything into a dish and went to take a picture. “You do realized it’s past their bedtime?” Eric asked. “See here, my good sir. Dinner isn’t finished until it’s photographed…. There. See? All done. Oh wait. I was supposed to shred the chicken…” Insert husbandly death glare here.

finishedmeal

Look. The point here is that I got dinner on the table… and at just a shade past 8pm. Oooops. This time everyone really enjoyed the meal (probably because by that time they were starving beasts, ravenous for any scrap I’d toss their way). I was not as impressed. I’m used to my bearded chefs amazing abilities with spices, and to me, it all tasted pretty bland. Plus, we don’t eat much pasta in our house, and I couldn’t even finish my plate, because it was so filling.

However, I’ll call this one a win, because everyone ate it without complaint, and I only lost two fingernails and no blood. 

New goal: More spice, less carbs.

First Attempt

As it turns out, I didn’t use either of the two cookbooks I bought, nor the shelf-full of cookbooks that we had, nor the NomNomPaleo app on the iPad. I decided that good cookery should involve spur of the moment inspiration. And by spur of the moment inspiration, I mean that my husband asked me to pick up milk and butter at Costco and I promptly brought home three gallons of milk and two dozen eggs, which I put into the refrigerator next to the three dozen eggs that he bought the day before. So the inspiration here is: I need to use up some eggs, y’all. I thought to myself: Frittata! I have so much French blood flowing through these veins, surely I will intuitively make an amazing frittata. Wait… is a frittata French? Let’s not look that up. Let’s just roll with it.

eggs

It was the end of the week, and I felt that Friday was an excellent day to begin cooking. After picking up the kids from school, we headed to the grocery store where I needed ingredients for my frittata… except eggs. I was so proud of myself that I decided I needed a reward. For attempting dinner Friday, I would plan on baking King Cakes over the weekend. I absolutely love to bake cakes, and even more I love to decorate them. For some strange reason they always come out splendidly, unlike my attempts at dinner. (This is also one of the reasons I was so pleased with my frittata idea. I mean if it’s mainly eggs and you use and oven, it’s BAKING, right?) So, with my mouth watering at the idea of my absolute favorite King Cake recipe, I turned down the baking aisle. Back to this ill-fated diversion in a bit.

The girls and I made it home, and I was congratulating myself and them on their good behavior as we shopped, probably due to the big bag of Pirate’s Booty I agreed to open for them to eat as we walked, but hey, I’m not above bribery. We headed into the house and I sat down with my oldest to help her with homework. My husband texted as he was leaving work and asked if I needed him to pick up anything from Trader Joe’s (which is directly below his office). I proudly told him that I’d made an HEB run with the girls, and I was all set. Then I stood up to double check my recipe and my heart dropped. I’d gone to HEB with the girls. I’d bought groceries. Groceries that included cream cheese for the king cakes. Groceries that were still sitting in the the back of my car an hour and a half later in almost 80 degree weather. (Hashtag: February in Texas). I went flying out to the car and rescued the groceries, decided that if the cream cheese wasn’t warm to the touch it was probably FINE, and put everything away.

I pulled up the frittata recipe on my phone and scanned down it once again. “Cook until edges start to pull away from the pan. 5-7 minutes.” Oh, awesome! This is going to take no time at ALL. I’ll just wait until Eric’s almost home and get it started, so it will be hot. He texted from a couple of miles out, so I pulled out the ingredients and started chopping onions. As I pulled out the spinach, my brain said: “Mmm… Spinach and feta… so good.” Wait. Feta. The feta I went to the store to get… but then I decided to make king cakes and… dammit. I texted Eric and asked him if he could pick up feta right as his key turned in the lock of the front door. He graciously offered to run get some, and I continued cooking. I had finished it all up and was feeling rather pleased with myself and impatient with him to get back, so I ran my eyes down the recipe again. “Cook until edges start to pull away from the pan. 5-7 minutes.” My eyes kept scanning to see if I had to let it cool. “Bake at 350 until set, 16-18 minutes.” ARGH! Eric walked back in with the cheese, and I sheepishly told him that dinner was going to be a while.

frittatafixins

In the meantime, I poured the delicious eggy concoction into my Pappaw’s cast iron skillet and waited for the edges to pull away. The timer went off at 5 minutes and it didn’t look like it was pulling anywhere, so I sat down at the laptop to begin regaling y’all with this story of championship culinary skill. Some time later, Eric said, “Um, that smell is the smell of eggs about to burn.” Oh, FOR THE LOVE! I jumped up and went over to move the cast iron skillet to the oven. Funny thing about cast iron. It’s made of cast iron. Like all of it. Including the handle. Physics is real, y’all. Eric grabbed a dishtowel and gracefully deposited the pan into the oven while I shook my wounded hand all the way to the sink and plunged it into the cold water from the faucet.

Impressively, some pretty delicious smells started filling the kitchen. When the timer went off, I pulled out the cast iron skillet (using silicone hot pads– I CAN be taught!) The frittata looked fluffy and delicious. I cut into it and tried to scoop up the slice. Most of it came up. The rest was firmly burned to the bottom. With the second piece, I decided to get serious with it, so I grabbed the handle of the skillet to really get some leverage. Turns out physics was still working! (So “taught” might’ve been a strong word.)

burntfrittata

I proudly placed the bottomless slices on the table before my family. After grace, my husband took a big bite, and said, “This is great!” You can’t believe a word he says, I think he’s trying to sleep with me. My oldest who exists on crackers and air exclaimed, “This is amazing!!!” Eric said, “She now officially eats more things that you cook than I cook.” I was feeling pretty darn fantastic about winning over the picky eater, until my youngest, who usually eats anything and everything, took one bite, looked at me with tear-filled eyes and spit a huge wad of half-chewed frittata onto her plate. To be fair, she was so exhausted from school that week that she had fallen asleep and had to be woken up for dinner. I’m sure that was it… it had nothing to do with the spinach that she sullenly stabbed with her fork for the rest of the meal.

Overall:

  • 75% of the family ate and seemed to enjoy it.
  • I only made 25% of the family cry with my cooking.
  • I just burned myself twice and the bottom of the entire frittata once.

Sure it was BASICALLY baking, but maybe I figure out how to cook after all. And also grocery shop. And read ALL the directions.

I’ve got this.

Probably.

finishedfrittata

 

Chef Prep

A few days after deciding that I wanted to learn how to cook, I announced to my husband: “I’m headed to the bookstore to look at cookbooks.”

“You know, everything is online now. If I feel like using a recipe, I just type in some ingredients and a ton of recipes come up and they’re all rated. Plus, we have NomNomPaleo on the iPad.”

I looked at him blankly, “But… the bookstore.”

He shook his head and sighed, so I happily picked up my keys, gave him a kiss, and practically skipped out the door. The first step to truly enjoying your bookstore experience is of course caffeine, so I swung by my favorite tea shop and ordered a Texas-sized Pacific-Coast-black iced tea. Yes, my cute little tea shop uses “Texas-sized” as an actual measure. Y’all and your venti trenta foolishness can just take a step back.

I walked slowly and let my eyes run down the shelves, before admitting that I had no idea what I was looking at (Betty Crocker? She makes good cakes. Does that parlay into chicken picatta? What is chicken picatta?), so I plopped down in the middle of the aisle and started googling “best cookbooks for beginners.” The first hit was an article which listed How to Cook Everything as the first suggestion. “That seems… ambitious,” I thought uneasily. The second book was called The World Atlas of Wine. “Now we’re talking!” I started looking for the book on the shelf before realizing that there probably wasn’t anything in it to cook, but then again at least I would have great direction on something to do WHILE I cooked. I’m pretty sure what’s good enough for Julia Childs is good enough for me. The third suggestion was the Cake Bible. First, I can already bake, second… I wonder what flavor Cheesecake Factory cupcakes they have today at the in-store Starbucks?

I decided this site wasn’t helping and tried the next one in the search criteria. They, too, wanted me to know How to Cook Everything, and then suggested the Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook, whose red checkered pattern I recognized immediately. I’m pretty sure someone gave me that book for a wedding present. I’m equally certain that I butchered (no pun intended) any of the recipes I tried from it. It’s a pretty fair bet, since I once ruined beans… from a can.

At that point I decided that the internet was unhelpful and there were too unknown variables in this section, so I went to a more reasonable part of the bookstore and flipped through Hidden Figures until I ran out of tea.

As with so many things in life, I do better if I don’t over think things, and just kind of fall into them. So while my planned trip to the bookstore for resources didn’t bear much (okay, ANY) fruit, going to Costco to take advantage of a sale on a TheraPure HEPA filter fan that was on sale, yielded a brand new cookbook, whose main draw was that the picture on the front was of the tall and thin authoress, and I’d love to be a foot taller and look that fantastic in the red dress she’s wearing, so we’re PRACTICALLY bosom friends already! It also had words like FIT! and CLEAN! and promised things within a limited number of days (28!), and we all know how great those work out!

fednfit

Later, when taking a weekly wander through Half Priced Books, I decided again to peruse the cookbook section. After flipping through several books, at least one of which smelled strongly of smoke, which I decided meant very bad ju-ju on the cooking skills front, I found a huge book from Williams-Sonoma called Cooking at Home. Williams-Sonoma?! I LOVE Williams-Sonoma! They have the greatest aprons and that really lovely smelling lemon soap! Surely this will have good recipes. Besides, it was full color, and my Instagram addicted brain reasoned that if pretty pictures can be taken, the food must be delicious! Right?

wscookbook

Finally, while blowing dust off the cookbooks that are stacked in the darkest corner of our pantry, I found Tim Ferriss’s The Four Hour Chef. I have a strong affinity for Tim Ferriss. His whole brand is built around “life hacks” and learning new things as quickly as possible before moving on to conquer the next mountain. This jack-of-all-trades, learn-all-the-things mentality is basically my life’s blood, so I pulled his book down. The introductory title in big bold letters read: “6 Reasons to Read This Book, Even If You Hate Cooking (As I Did).” Oh, Tim, I always knew deep down that we were soul sisters! I used a paper towel to wipe the rest of the dust from the cover and added it to my stack.

4hrchef

Now I suppose the only thing left to do is wash all my cute aprons. If I have learned nothing else from that first book I picked out (and I really haven’t learned anything else, because I haven’t opened it yet), one of the keys to good cooking is looking fabulous!

Allons-y!

A New Chapter

I’ve got a few new cookbooks, a burnt orange apron, and a blog to document the fallout. What could possibly go wrong?

I used to write a blog called Dainty Cate. It was all about my adventures homeschooling my young girls and included a pretty personal look at my life through several health crises. My girls are growing up (tweenager in the house… please pass the Shiner!), we made the decision to move them into a local Catholic school, I started working a part time, and I found that some stories were no longer mine to tell. I saved all the stories and pictures from the early years of our family and shuttered the blog. My identity as a full time mom, a homeschooler, a blogger, was suddenly gone. The transition out of our home and into a brick and mortar school was a bumpy one. Tears were shed, teeth were gnashed, but we now have two happy children who love their friends, teachers, and new adventures. We are in the homestretch of their first year, and only now have I finally had a chance to take a deep breath, have a good look around, and decide which direction I want to explore.

My husband, meanwhile, has been so supportive as the girls and I up-end everything in our world. No matter how chaotic things get these days, one thing we can always count on is coming home at the end of a crazy day and sharing an amazing dinner. My bearded chef discovered years ago that cooking was relaxing for him, and with tears of gratitude in my eyes I handed over the dish towel that I had probably been using to fan smoke out of the house, and he swung it jauntily over his shoulder and started dividing ingredients into more tiny glass ramekins than the Cooking Network uses in a week of programing. The man is a veritable marvel. He has an innate sense of flavor combinations and rarely uses a recipe when concocting his latest creation. However, he has been a long time musician right here in the Live Music Capital of the World, and now that the girls are getting older, he is beginning to put more time and energy back into that life. I’m thrilled for him and love the chance to get out and enjoy any of his current bands in our beautiful city, but this also means that solo nights are becoming more frequent.

While the girls delight in the nights that Mom cooks (“Yay! Mac ‘n cheese, again!”), I’ve decided now that I’m on the downward slope of my thirties it might MIGHT just be time for me to attempt to cook something for my family beyond the same five fallbacks I’ve been throwing together since college (beans and rotel, mac n cheese from a box, chicken fajitas, chili, and cereal– just in case you’re keeping score). This is a big leap of faith for me (and everyone planning to gather around our table for that matter), as nearly every time during our early married life that I attempted to open a (wedding gifted) cookbook and branch out from the five old faithfuls, things ended with the smoke detectors shrilling, me in a puddle of disappointment on the kitchen floor, and an emergency call to pizza delivery.

I’ve got a few new cookbooks, a burnt orange apron (Hook ‘Em!), and blog to document the fallout. What could possibly go wrong?

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