How I’ve changed as a cook since January 2013

kitchenaidkitchen

No, that is not my kitchen. Beautiful though, right? (image from KitchenAid.com)

I don’t like New Year’s resolutions. I think it’s the high rate of failure when I set myself a goal and label it a “resolution”.

I don’t know if I have any specific “goals” for 2014, honestly. As I was thinking about what I might want to accomplish this year, I thought of some stuff that has changed for me since last January. Right around this time last year, I was just about a week into my Twenty/20 Project, cooking up a storm and generally flying blind. It was fun, and I realized that after a year, many of the lessons that I learned from that experience still stick with me.

Beyond the general “learning new techniques” goal that I got from completing that project, some fundamental habits changed for me in the kitchen. A list:

- I noticed that now when I have any chicken broth-based soup…I kind of need a bit of lemon juice in it to make it “brighter”.

- I bought a digital scale and now weigh ingredients more often than not.

- The confidence I earned by baking an angel food cake (twice) led me to making a challah in October for the first time. And it was…not bad. That’s a story that deserves its own post, honestly. Stay tuned!

- My iodized salt went out of my kitchen on January 1st of last year. Kosher salt replaced it (and I acquired this nifty salt container). I never looked back.

- When I took a cooking class with my husband in December, I was flattered when one of the assistants to the instructor saw me season onion in a sauté pan and said, “clearly you’ve done this before!”. (No, I have not changed my mind on onion…this was a cooking class, folks.)

- I am getting better about my mise en place. By that I mean, instead of simply taking out my ingredients before I start making something and putting them in an unorganized pile…I actually organize myself before I do anything.

As a result of some of the above lessons, I noticed one more big change: cooking for my extended family for the holidays had me way less stressed out this time around. Namely, we host Thanksgiving. That can be an intimidating thing even for someone who cooks at home a lot. There’s always the pressure of “will our family like what I’ve made”. I found that by being more organized and having just a bit more confidence in myself as a cook, that intimidation kind of…well…disappeared. That, my friends, was the biggest win of all.

In other, non-cookery news:

Today I begin a ten week writing course given by Creative Nonfiction. I’d tell you which course I’m doing, but honestly, I’d rather not. The end goal of all of this is simply to become a better, more polished writer, so the specific class isn’t the point. The point is getting instruction from an actual writing course – something I’ve never had in my life. Oh sure, English classes all throughout school gave me a solid base (or at least I think they did). Studying history in college provided me with plenty of writing opportunity, for sure.

I confess I’m a little scared and excited about the class. I’ll try to update you all if something interesting happens, but we shall see. Just wish me luck! I’ll be around here a bit more often. If nothing else, I’ll have to tell you all the story behind the challah. It isn’t half bad. :)

 

See Ya Later 2013

2014

Here’s the funny thing about life – you can blink and the calendar will jump from August to December 31st.

So long time, no see (or write, really). I hope you all are doing well and that there are still people who check in here occasionally. Things around my house have been busy, and life took over. There has been no earth-shattering news, so I’ve been a little quiet.

I think in 2011 I called these year-end posts “obligatory”, and while I would point out that I clearly feel no strong obligations to crank out posts when I have nothing to say to the world, this post maybe proves my original assessment of New Year’s to be correct. Good to know. So let’s dive in shall we?

When I looked back at my blog for 2013, I can see that I totally peaked in January with my Twenty/20 Project. You know what? I’m actually okay with that. I had amazing support from the author, Michael Ruhlman, and it was one of the best experiences of this year. I hope to do another project like that one soon. I will, of course, keep you all posted.

As for me personally, I had a pretty great year. One of the highlights was facing my nearly crippling fear of heights and doing that zipline above Fremont Street in Las Vegas this past summer. As far as ziplines go, that one is pretty freaking short, and not even as high as the ones that carry you among treetops and such. Having said that, I still managed to do it without passing out (barely though). I call that a win.

This year I participated in three different run/walk events, including the Rock ‘n’ Roll Mini Marathon this past October. I have at least that many events that I have my eye on in 2014, so I hope to talk a bit more about that next year. Meanwhile, both of my sisters completed the Nike Women’s Marathon in San Francisco that same month. It was pretty spectacular to be there for that event, cheering them on!

In “update-y” news: my friend Sarah’s book, Choose Your Weapon, continues to do well, and is now racking up the accolades. Now more than ever, do check out her book. You will thank me later. 

I hope to be around more in the New Year, and that you all will still pop in and say hello. Whether you have big plans to celebrate tonight, or if you will be spending a quiet evening at home; I’m wishing everyone a happy, healthy and safe New Year. See you all in 2014. :)

Book “Review”: Choose Your Weapon ~ by Sarah Rodriguez Pratt

ChooseYourWeaponFirst things first, I am sure you all have noticed that I put the word review in quotes. There’s a reason for that. I feel that this book in particular deserves more than just a review. Let me explain.

Over the past few years, I have made many friends through this blog. Okay, so most of those connections were greatly facilitated by twitter. Whatevs. I would not be so over-active on twitter without this blog…so there. I digress.

So what do I mean by “more than a review”? I mean that the author, Sarah Rodriguez Pratt is a friend. She also happens to be a fantastic writer/storyteller, and I have read her blog for…two or three years now. I can’t put my finger on exactly when I started reading her blog because I can’t remember when I *wasn’t* reading her blog.

While you might be tempted to just write off what I’m about to say about her book as just another form of fandom, hear me out. I don’t really read a lot of YA (or “Young Adult Fiction” to the uninitiated). Sure, the genre has produced some fantastic books for many years, way before the character of Harry Potter was a twinkle in J.K. Rowling’s eye. I suppose all I can say is that I had simply lost interest. Kind of like not really hearing from a friend you had years ago. There was no “breakup”. Just a growing apart.

When Sarah told me that she was working on a book, I was happy for her…and I was eager to read it. When I found out that it was going to be a YA novel, I was optimistic that I would like it. After all, YA novels are like an old middle school friend to me. And so, here we are. Sarah self-published her book (read her post on that, it’s kind of fantastic) in July. She graciously sent me a digital copy so I could read it.  [Read more...]

Shenanigans: What I took out of my fridge to avoid embarrassment

I recently wrote an article for a series on Food Riot titled “What’s in Your Fridge“. It’s a popular series where us “Rioters” take pictures and detail what is in our refrigerators at that moment. It was in writing that article that I discovered just how intimate it can be to let total strangers take a look at my fridge. Food can be a personal thing, and in exposing my fridge I felt…vulnerable.

But of course, there’s more to this story.

Just as when someone has a professional in their homes (whether it’s a cleaning service, repair people, etc.), there is often a mad dash to clean the house so that it’s presentable to “outsiders”. The fridge article was no different. I found myself worrying about how the door of the fridge is so overcrowded with jars of random olives, too many salad dressings, and a myriad of pickled veggies and other condiments. We had just returned from Las Vegas, so the shelves in particular were unusually sparse. That was something that I could live with because less clutter makes things look less messy.

And just like when you have people in your home, you make an effort to hide your dirty laundry (both literal and figurative), I found that I did have one item in particular sitting on a shelf in my fridge that I would have to…um…hide.

What was so embarrassing for me? It’s a good question, as I openly admitted to having a bag of cooked bacon in there (that I then blamed on Jason). As embarrassing as I find that bag of cooked bacon to be…there was something far worse.

jargarlic

So convenient…yet so evil. Apparently.

Jarred minced garlic.

I have found in my various travels that most people who consider themselves “foodies” will tell you that jarred minced garlic is a sin against God and all things good in the world. I suppose I can see that, but there is a practical side to something like this. I don’t always have fresh garlic in the house. Shocking, I know. I’ve learned to keep garlic fresh on hand as much as possible, but sometimes…well…it just doesn’t happen. My husband and I love garlic so much that I couldn’t bear to not have *any* at my disposal. Garlic powder just doesn’t have the punch that I so often want when I’m using garlic.

So there I was, having been away from home for two weeks, writing the article for Food Riot, and there on a rather clear space on that refrigerator shelf…my lone jar of minced garlic.

Rather than admit to this on that site, I removed it from the fridge before I took the pictures for the article. I didn’t even acknowledge that I owned a jar of minced garlic. If I had been asked about it, I would have lied. I just didn’t want the ridicule. I mean, a single person scoffed at my dislike of onion already on the Food Riot Facebook page and it still kind of stings. I was not about to put such enticing bait on a food-centric website…”and I have this jar of minced garlic“. Not to mention the fact that I felt like I’d disappoint any chefs that might be bored enough to read my site (*cough* Michael Ruhlman *cough*).

Of course, I’m blowing the whole thing way out of proportion. I’m sure nobody would have said anything, let alone even noticed it in the description of what I had in there. I’m weak though. So out it went…migrating its way to this post instead.

I think maybe I’m a terrible foodie. It’s okay though. I’m taking solace in the fact that I allowed the pre-cooked bag of bacon stand. But I swear that totally is Jason’s fault.

Insomniac Storytime: Flightlinez over Fremont Street

FlightlinezLogo

Image taken from Flightlinez Facebook Page

I originally had the thought that I could write this at 12:31 a.m. and schedule it to be posted at a “normal hour”. But I decided to forego that idea and present this, as is, when I’m done writing it. I figured it might be more interesting to just let my thoughts stand as they would at this hour, not leaving room for censorship when I’ve already had some sleep.

But this is not really about insomnia. This is about me doing perhaps the stupidest thing I’ve ever done. It also happens to be the most fun thing I have done in years. Of course, there’s a story. Get some coffee and settle in. It’s not long, but I think it’s a good story.

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Shenanigans: Vegas Interlude

You’ll notice that I’m posting this after 4am. There’s a reason for that.

My husband and I decided to go to Vegas for our longer vacation this year. We go every few years and it had been a little while since we were here last. Years ago we were stupid enough to buy a timeshare, so we figured it was time to use it again.

But this is not about Vegas in general. This is about us having brunch this (well, yesterday) morning. And by morning, I mean around 11am. Let’s just say that our normal sleeping schedule is mighty off right now.

For those that don’t know, The Wicked Spoon is the buffet located in the Cosmopolitan hotel. It’s part of one of the huge additions to the ever-changing Las Vegas Strip. The Cosmopolitan itself is a rather fancy-shmancy place, complete with more than its share of celebrity chef restaurants and a luxury brand mall. It’s quite beautiful to walk around in. Jason had done a bit of research on where to go to have meals in advance of our trip, and The Wicked Spoon was near the top of the list.

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Personal Adventure: Cooking for Solutions Institute Day – May 17, 2013

EarthboundFarmWhat a whirlwind of a weekend I just had. I experienced so many amazing things, I hardly know where to begin. Let’s begin at the beginning, shall we?

I had been invited to Institute Day on Friday, ahead of all the public festivities for Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Cooking for Solutions event. The Aquarium was so kind to invite me, and I was thrilled to be in the room with so many big name media people. I definitely felt like a teeny, tiny guppy in a sea of very, very big fish.

The day opened up with breakfast hosted by Earthbound Farms, which was amazing. First I had to get myself there. Here is the story:

Because I was driving to Monterey on Friday morning, with a target time to arrive at 7:30am or 7:45am to catch a shuttle down the street from my hotel, I had to get up at 5:15am.

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Love Letter: Monterey Bay Aquarium

I was thinking that as part of my ongoing effort to share more of myself on here, I thought I would talk about Monterey briefly ahead of my big weekend starting tomorrow.

MBA1

Entrance to the Monterey Bay Aquarium

I’ve visited Monterey, California my whole life. Going to the Monterey Bay Aquarium was always part and parcel of being in the area. Kind of like I can never drive through Anaheim and NOT go to Disneyland. If I’m in Monterey…I’m going to the Aquarium. It’s the rules.

(Oh, and this whole thing might sound like I work for  the Aquarium. I swear I don’t…I just really love this place). :)

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Mother’s Day

As my social circle expands, I am in awe of the moms I have met over the last few years. So for Mother’s Day, I’m posting one of my all-time favorite poems, by my all-time favorite poet, the incomparable Maya Angelou.

Sure, it’s not a traditionally “Mom” poem. It’s about strength, grace and confidence. Or at least, that’s what it conveys to me. Here’s to all the Moms out there – with a special shout-out to my Mom – who make us all strong in big ways and small.

Still I Rise

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own back yard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

Shenanigans: Foodie on Weight Watchers

I’m having trouble starting this because all I can think of is how tragic it is to be a newly-minted foodie and simultaneously be on Weight Watchers.

Understand: this is not meant to be an indictment against Weight Watchers. I’m quite happy with their program to be perfectly honest with you. Turns out, Jennifer Hudson isn’t lying. But I think I just need a moment to rant about the surreal feeling of wanting to eat more decadent things in a way that I had never experienced and be essentially forbidden from doing that.

A list:

1. Not gonna lie, IT BLOWS.  Like seriously, it sucks.

Everyone who makes a life-changing decision about diet and exercise will regale you with stories about how good they feel, how much energy they have, and how happy they are that their clothes are fitting better. All of that is true. While my weight loss is occurring slower than I’d like, I can say that I have felt the benefits of making a dietary change.

starbucks

Ah Starbucks, you evil temptress, you.

What nobody tells you though – changing long-held bad habits is more than just the inconvenience of learning a new way to do things. The cravings…oh holy crap the cravings you guys. Not only do the cravings suck, but they bring up feelings of…well…pure, unadulterated ANGER.

I went to see Alton Brown do a reading at Books, Inc. in Mountain View last year. He told the crowd about how he changed his diet some years back and lost a bunch of weight. One of the changes he made was to give up Diet Coke. I thought, “Okay, that makes sense…soda is bad…so that’s good“. He then told everyone how he was pissed off all the time and I totally didn’t believe him. I thought, “oh come ON“. I figured he was exaggerating for the crowd. You have to tell a good story at a book signing, right?

So I spent the entire first week on the program in various stages of pissed off.  I wish I was kidding. My poor husband had to steer clear of me that first weekend, as he ate whatever the hell he wanted and I was subsisting on celery. Okay I wasn’t really subsisting on celery…but it sure felt like it.

2. Do I tell people I’m on Weight Watchers or don’t I?

WWYou’d think that it would be easy to just tell people, “oh hey there [insert name of close friend or family], I started Weight Watchers“. Nope. Not easy. There is an unspoken element of embarrassment that happens for a lot of people. Sure, I know that I shouldn’t be embarrassed. But I totally am.

Given that I didn’t want to tell anyone, it made it suddenly difficult to be around those I’m closest to. If you’re thinking I mean I didn’t want to tell friends or family, you’d be correct…excepting for the fact that I didn’t even want to tell my husband. Yep, you read that right. Stupid. Totally stupid. We share bank accounts for heaven’s sakes, and Weight Watchers isn’t free. So it was maybe the stupidest thing that I thought I could just keep to myself. I ended up breaking down and telling him the day after I signed up. But not because it dawned on me that he would totally see my payment for the program. It was because he wanted to make his decadent nachos for dinner. Yeah, I know.

3. The greatest tragedy of them all: Manresa in Los Gatos

My husband had made reservations for us to have dinner at David Kinch’s famed restaurant, Manresa. For foodies, this place tends to be near the top of the list of “must go there” places. So I was pretty thrilled that he surprised me for my birthday. Unfortunately, I quickly realized that I was just going to have to be okay with chucking the whole points system right out of the window. True, the tragedy isn’t that it stopped me from going there (I mean, come on, like I would let my changing food habits stop me). The tragedy was having the points system so ingrained in my head even after a few weeks that I was silently tallying up what I was eating…and it kind of took a bit of joy out of the experience. Let’s just say that I spent extra, extra time at the gym that day.

Anyway, I’ve managed to stick to most (but not all…not yet) of the changes I decided to make. Little by little, I’ll get there.

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