Food


I must be a glutton for punishment.

Ha-ha! Knee-slapper!

And just to prove my relationship to food is all fucked up, you know what part totally doesn’t stress me out at all? Using eggs that passed their best-by date a week ago. I know exactly how to deal with that question.

Okay, I’ve mostly worked out my immediate angst about cooking (though I’m not entirely done yet), thank you all for listening and commenting. My current method of trying to become a better cook by just cooking is clearly not moving me forward at all. I’m going for look for local cooking classes, make more use of the Joy of Cooking that’s been on my shelf for 10 years, and maybe invest in a better rice cooker.

By the way—it’s not like I’ve been eating cookout since I left the dorms in 1997. But trying to cook healthy food basically is forcing me to redo everything (since I had a tendency to live on cheese toast. Yum, cheese toast). So I think I will also order the Engine2Diet book, which I read at my sister’s a while back and didn’t object to, and spend more time with it. The desire for health is what scares me off the “my first kitchen” books—I’ll have to check those first.

But here’s a great rant from an software engineer about cooking, who provided my post title. Basically similar to mine, but I think funnier.

Can I still make this recipe? What is the purpose of this ingredient? Why is it in the recipe? Is it critical to the process? Can I do without it? What are the possible substitutes that I could use?

And I think it highlights why I get so angry. When I write assignment handouts for students, I at least apologize for the equivalent of requiring cups of something that is sold by weight in ounces. I mean, yeah, sometimes that’s unavoidable, but I try not to leave them hanging out flapping in the wind. I know that I have a lot of detailed knowledge and certain instincts that I don’t expect them to have. I try to describe and prioritize the necessary function and explain why the form I suggest supports the function, at least in class or feedback if not in the handout. So I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect recipe writers to do the same, or to feel let down when they don’t.

It’s not about the time. Two hours from leaving for the grocery store to getting two quiches in the oven, on a Saturday afternoon, is perfectly fine. I wasn’t hungry, I wasn’t in a hurry, I was happy to spend the time.

It’s not about the quiche. Quiche IS easy, and forgiving. The grating and mixing and cooking of Saturday’s quiche was perfectly smooth, didn’t even spill it getting it in the oven. I actually made quiche myself, twice, two summers ago, without having a mental breakdown, and even produced something I was willing to serve to my neighbor. You know the difference? I didn’t try to follow a recipe. I said, I’ve helped my sister make quiche, I called her to ask roughly how much half-and-half goes with how much eggs, and I winged it. I didn’t prebake the frozen crust, because I’d never heard of that. I didn’t worry about why onion quiche calls for 6 cups of onions but Bittman’s instructions on substituting other greens say use no more than 2 cups but doesn’t spinach cook down almost as much as onions and maybe I should use more spinach than 2 cups and do I measure that 2 cups tightly or loosely packed because the pesto recipe specified but the quiche instructions don’t say? I just sauteed all the spinach I had and threw it in.

Why didn’t I just do that again? Because it was edible, but not actually very tasty. I don’t have the skills to diagnose it, so I thought maybe listening to the experts would produce better results.

This is why I’m blaming cookbooks. “If you can follow instructions, you can cook.” Fuck that bullshit. They pretend recipes are all you need, but recipes are written for people who already cook.
The other point some of you are not getting is about human nature. Fool me twice, shame on me. What did I learn from Saturday? I did not learn how to make a better quiche. I did not move any closer to the holy grail of mastering six-to-ten simple recipes or making cooking a habit. Instead, I exerted a ton of mental energy for something unhealthy and unsatisfying to consume. In terms of health, time, money, and energy, I would have been FAR better off ordering Thai from down the street. So I learned that cooking is not worth it. Now how do I unlearn that lesson?

Considering trying to make quiche practically sent me into a mental breakdown, how in the world is it that I can deal with sewing, which everyone agrees is frustrating and where I am equally as ignorant?

A few things:

The first try in sewing is done in cheap fabric to identify potential problems, not in an attempt to get something edible that night (sometimes under the pressure of hunger). Unsuccessful projects can be recycled, or at least added to the scrap bag for eventual re-use, not just tossed in the trash or choked down.

Sewing takes longer, yes—but at the end I have something that will last, that I can use more than once. And I’m happier to repeat a skirt/dress pattern in three different fabrics than to eat varieties of quiche for three solid weeks.

After cooking, I have something that is edible, but I know would have tasted better if I had gone out to a restaurant and ordered it. Sewing only since February, I’ve managed to produce about 10 skirts and 1 dress that don’t fit me any worse than the clothes I buy, and are in colors and fabrics that I picked because I really liked them.

It’s much easier to move between sewing and my computer than cooking and my computer, since I don’t have to be washing hands or moving into another room. So both research and taking notes for next time are quicker and less annoying and less of an interruption to the process.

Sewing instructions take less for granted than cookbooks. There is a LOT less decision-making required, at least at the novice level. Patterns are very specific about the things you need and what you should do, including how much fabric you need at 45″ wide and how much if the fabric is 60″ wide (as opposed to basil being sold in ounces but measured in cups, and so forth). There’s none of this assumption that you know what difference it makes to throw in a quarter-cup of dill or basil or thyme—I learned the difference between a regular zipper and an invisible zipper by April, and that’s about the main choice I need to make.

Sewing turns out right. Yeah, it seems weird and crazy along the way, just like cooking, but when it’s done, I see how it works. It’s not as complicated. I see where I need to add a dart to fine-tune the fit on the next one or lengthen the skirt. When I finish cooking, I’m left with “this tastes bland, but I have no clue which spices or herbs it needs to improve.” Or I don’t like the texture, but don’t know which ingredient will change it.

If I can’t figure it out, I can take it to my weekly sewing studio to ask for advice. I can’t describe tastes over the phone to my mother or sister.

Learning to fit clothes teaches me to accept my body, to know it better, to conquer its flaws. Trying to eat healthy—um, doesn’t. Just doesn’t. At all.

Cookbooks say “this is easier than you think!” and they lie. Sewists say “yes, this is tricky, but you can do it!” and they are right.

Sewists remember their own frustration in learning something for the first time, and try to pre-empt it in tutorials. The catchphrase is “ask me how I know” (that doing X will fail. Because they tried it, and it failed). They say things like “okay, this is going to look really weird, but trust me, it works.” Cookbooks do not. I am very reluctant to cook something unfamiliar, when I don’t know how it’s supposed to turn out. I can look in my closet to see how some things are supposed to turn out.

(It’s possible that I am just reading the right sewists online, and not the right cookbooks or cooking blogs. The one sewing book I bought, Sew What! Skirts, I did occasionally find frustrating in the same way as cookbooks. There’s a sense of betrayed trust in my quiche post, and that’s a situation I tend to overreact to—for one reason or another, I don’t feel like I encounter it as much in sewing.)

Because sewing is not an expected skill, every functional achievement deserves pride, even if it didn’t come out exactly the way I wanted. Cooking always provokes a sense of trailing behind, desperately trying to catch up to where a 34-year-old woman ought to be.

So, What Would Phoebe Do had a post a bit back in which she basically argued that cooking can be a hell of a lot of work, and those people promising fast and easy simple recipes need to stop lying to people:

because food and health writers whose topic of choice is home cooking do this for a living, their entire concept of how much cooking interferes with the life of someone whose life doesn’t revolve around cooking is warped, warped, warped.

I enthusiastically agreed, because I have this argument with my sister all the time. If you do not cook regularly, cooking is a big-ass hassle, and it is enough of a hassle that it makes it very difficult to develop the habit of cooking regularly.

However, Phoebe missed a few items on her list.

I decided to make quiche, because it’s really handy to have some real food around that requires nothing more a microwave to create a meal. I have eaten quiche, so I know what it’s supposed to taste like. I have made quiche, so I know it’s not that hard to get edible and that 6 eggs and 2 cups of milk requires TWO pie shells even though none of the recipes tell you this. I don’t need to spend 30 minutes trying to decide which quiche recipe on the internet I should follow, because I have How to Cook Everything on my phone and I am going to just trust Mark Bittman.

So I am happy and optimistic about the quiche plan, even though I don’t cook. I am going to use ingredients from my trip to the farmer’s market this morning to make pesto for pesto quiche, even, because I love pesto.

In the Grocery Store:

  • wonder exactly how 4 oz of basil correlates to 2 tightly packed cups and maybe I should just spend $10 on two packages of organic basil but that seems fucking ridiculous.
  • peer at labels and price per oz to try to figure which of the 25 fucking brands of imported extra virgin olive oil I should buy
  • wish pathetically for a grocery store that only offered each item in a single brand.
  • read labels on pie crusts looking for whole grain ingredients.
  • stare hopelessly at the eggs, wondering what’s the difference between free range and cage-free and access to outdoors and does omega-3 mean they put some kind of injection into the eggs or what?
  • since I am at the grocery, decide to buy brown rice. Google to figure out whether brown rice is healthy or I have to go all the way to the $9/lb wild rice. Ponder whether I am more likely to enjoy long grain brown rice, short grain brown rice, short grain brown rice (pearled), or sweet brown rice. Wish I could call my mother and ask her but she’s traveling this weekend. Note that this is a high-stakes decision, because if I have to add “overcome the memory of the nasty-ass food I cooked last time” to the beginning of any intent to cook, it’s not gonna be good.

At Home

  • change clothes and put on apron because I am a messy cook.
  • start to prebake the pie crust per the recipe, worry that I have no aluminum foil, wonder what the fuck a pie weight is, think that maybe prebaking the pie crust is only if you actually made the pie crust, curse Mark Bittman.
  • call my mother on the cell to settle the prebaking issue.
  • scale back plans to make pesto-cheese quiche and spinach quiche in favor of getting a goddamn cheese quiche in the oven asap.
  • resist urge to cry, say fuck it, and order pizza. Turn up music instead.
  • skip the recommended fresh basil because I don’t know whether to include the stems and am pissed about how the fuck I’m supposed to only wash a 1/4 cup of basil when it’s on a fucking stem still.
  • guess I needed the fucking pie weights. Tamp down the blown up pie shells, hope they are browned enough, since I can’t really tell with the whole grain spelt flour.
  • wonder what “beat until well-blended” means when I have 2 cups of grated aged cheese that is not going to blend without some sort of machine getting involved. Decide it can’t really matter because how you can screw up cheese and eggs and milk, but curse Mark Bittman anyway.
  • feel smug about having the necessary two pie crusts ready.
  • put the quiche in the oven. Realize I just exerted all that mental energy on making something completely unhealthy.

Maybe the thought of the basil rotting will convince me to cook again soon, but maybe not.

ETA, from my comment, because I think this sums the heart of my issues: I went from happy to fucking furious, as little annoyances accumulated from 5pm to 7pm. What food is worth that?

Is naming a drink “AZ 1070” an effective way to ridicule Arizona’s unAmerican anti-immigrant law?

Img 1082

Honest question. I can’t decide. The server asked the bartender what the name meant, and she (herself with a little bit of an accent) came back laughing, so I guess the bartender made it funny, but…

* * *

At trivia last week, the server suggested my friend try a mixture of pear hard cider and framboise (raspberry beer). Ooh, sounds good—four all around.

Later, the trivia emcee shared a list of “jokes” along the lines of:

  • “When men say I’m not hungry, it means they aren’t hungry.”
  • “When women say how do I look, it means do I look fat.”
  • “When women say no, it means yes.”

When we got the bill, the pear/raspberry drink was identified as “PANTYD”. Someone asked:

“Pantydropper. I think it’s tacky, I don’t like to use it.”

Thank you, sir. I should have overtipped him more than I did.

Thankfully, we are taking a trivia hiatus for the summer, so hopefully I will have forgotten the sexism before I go back.

PS. Both drinks tasted damn good.

About salsa: “it’s not mom-hot, but it’s hot enough.” “mom-hot” is short of “Thai-hot”, but probably hotter than anything else you’ve eaten.

“5RPMs short”: measurement of how hard I need to step on the gas with a short merge lane. Will differ for every car.

Definition of the suburbs: if the carpool lane goes that far, it’s the suburbs.

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