Inedible Edibles

dog-cookingThis evening my bff and I were having quite a time lamenting/marveling/pondering our lack of drive and motivation during these sub-zero temperatures. Not only am I guilty of non-motivation, non-creativity, and non-energy, but I alternate between sweating and freezing, all within minutes of each other.  Eventually our lamenting/marveling/pondering conversation meandered towards cooking, scattered schedules, and trying to scale down from cooking for 20 (so to speak) to cooking for two. Or one. Or 2-1/2, depending on who visits. And we decided what we needed was to go to cooking school. Not to Le Cordon Bleu or the Culinary Institute of America – what we needed was something a little down-homey. A little more working-woman-centric.

What we need is a Culinary School of Leftovers.

We both agreed it would be great to take a course or two on what to do with those wilty veggies that somehow get pushed to the side of the veggie drawer. Or the leftover meatballs that have already seen Swedish and Italian and aren’t in the mood for sub sandwiches. With the right training, I’m sure we could find uses for overripe tomatoes, brown avocados, and cold fried chicken.

I come from a family of cooking big. Although there were only four of us, I often pictured my boys as underfed. What I lacked in culinary expertise I made up for in quantity. Pots of stew and spaghetti sauce filled the stove, table, and freezer. I didn’t have the where-for-all to use saffron or arugula,  but carrots and potatoes and pork chops – oh my!

Now that my kids have moved out, it’s only hubby and me. He works the night shift, I slave away during the day. So without teenagers to wolf down meatloaf and steak and stir fry, I find my meals lack any real creativity. Never mind the fact that hubby and I only have about a half hour to share gourmet delights between shifts; never mind that between domestic chores and full-time jobs there is little or no time to whip up soufflés and pot-de-feus.

I own plenty of cookbooks – any food dilemma you can think of, I’m prepared for. Crockpot cooking. Meals-on-a-budget. Italian cooking. Chinese cooking.  What the cookbooks lack, though, is the human element. The voice that needles you and makes you feel bad every time you leave leftovers in the frig for over a week. Just because you made Chinese for 10 and 9 people didn’t show up doesn’t mean you should push the container back behind the juice and forget about it for a few weeks.

What my friend and I need is a cooking school that will fit into our budget, time frame, and leftover habits. Wilted celery? No problem! Cheese with blue spots on the edge? Don’t worry about it! The right Leftover Cooking School would not only teach us to cook for two (again), but would specialize in the following subjects:

  1. Impulse buying. Why I don’t need to buy baby corns and an eggplant and a head of lettuce and six ears of corn and a head of cabbage and portabella mushrooms and leeks all in one week.
  2. Portion control. A plateful of spaghetti and Italian Sausage doesn’t mean a platter-sized plate.
  3. Freezing leftovers. How making a stockpot of soup can be turned into six different meals instead of one meal and five science experiments.
  4. That there is life for ground chuck beyond meatballs and sloppy joes.

Just think! I could take courses in “10 Uses for Leftover Tuna Casserole,” “Jelly’s Not Just for Peanut Butter Anymore,” or “Spices Beyond Garlic Powder.”  I could find new uses for the half-bottles of ranch dressing, capers, and horseradish that hang out in my refrigerator door.  I could learn how to throw leftover parties, combining the delights of fried rice, polish sausage and sauerkraut, and expired refrigerator biscuits into something revolutionary and nourishing!

I must admit, the thought of a Culinary School of Leftovers is something worth pondering. With the number of Tupperware containers taking up space in my refrigerator, there would be endless possibilities for lectures and discussions.

And not all in the realm of edible.

Creative Cooking Lessons

mcI am happy to say that the elections are finally over. Ballots have been cast, candidates have been turned into winners or losers, and life goes on. There was a lot of nastiness on television these last few days; a lot of sour grapes both before and after the polls closed. I know that politics is a serious world, but I think that candidates and pundits alike could take a cue or two from some of the most serious — and competitive — people on the planet.

The kids on Master Chef Junior.

Some of the kids are as young as 8 and have to stand on a stool to cook. Some are 12 and tall and lanky and move around gracefully. Some are articulate, others talk just like an 8-year-old. They are chubby and tiny and skinny and of all nationalities. They come with glasses and pigtails and braces. Yet they are alive and excited and they love what they do.

Now I know you say that’s TV and those kids are little prodigies and they don’t have to deal with unemployment and underfunded schools and brow-beating bosses. And you are right. But that doesn’t mean that the pressure isn’t on in their little world. They are competing for a lot of money and a lot of publicity and, of course, bragging rights. They are competing on a stage that they’ve been on for only a few years (after all — how many years can a 10-year-old have been cooking?) and are cooking things without a printed, written recipe.  They are digging into their little brains and coming up with things like chicken liver pate on a crostini, Brûlée pears, chicken wings with a Vietnamese marinade, Yuzu salad, and Chicken Parmesan.

But you know what else they do? They high-five each other. They congratulate each other. They share their ingredients and hug each other when they fail. They say things like, “I kinda feel bad for Isabella; she’s really nice, and no one wants to see her cry.” They aren’t there to hang each other out to dry; they aren’t out to sabotage or fight or scream at each other. I’m not saying they’re not competitive; it’s just that there’s not a bad attitude in the bunch. Their downers disappear in the freshness of their attitude. They are an inspiration to the curmudgeons among us.

There’s a lot of apathy in the world these days. A lot of frustration and impatience and intolerance. A lot of people hate their jobs, their family, their situations. They are fed up with the leaders and the followers, the policies and the politics. Lest you think I point a finger at you, I, too, am guilty of the “hate” rap at times. My patience is thin, my understanding of the world, thinner. Everyone around me has an attitude; often ~I~ have an attitude.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

I have no idea what the lives of the competing chefs are like. I have no idea about their living conditions, their families, or their pressures. What I do see is an attitude of lightness. Of being in the now, working towards tomorrow, and having fun doing it. These kids blend their innocence with their love of cooking and food, making them the competition of the future. These are the kids that will make our work place a better place. Kids who will find enjoyment in the stress of a world they love. They will have hard times ahead of them, but they’re starting life out on the right foot. The foot of fun. The foot of creativity.

We so have to dump this defeatist attitude, this “I hate the Republicans/Democrats” mentality. It’s time to get over whatever it is that bugs us. If something in your life doesn’t “do it” for you, find something fun to do that does “do it.” Don’t let those bad feelings about the way of the world fester into something that, left unchecked, turns into a disease you can’t escape. Trust me. It’s just not worth it.

One of the kids from MCJ said it best:  “My dad’s favorite saying is:  Number one rule: always have fun.”

A Star is Form(ed)

pastaI love watching  people “livin’ the dream.” Watching the Food Network’s last Food Network Star, that was a popular phrase shared by the contestants and mentors as well. And really — doing what you love doing, walking the hallowed halls of Food Network, past the gods and goddesses of cuisine, travelling to places like Caesar’s Palace and restaurants that offer $1,000 ice cream sundaes — how can you not be living someone’s dream?

Television is truly a dream all its own. I watched season 6 of Face Off, and one of the episodes sent the contestants to Japan. To Japan! Just to give the prosthetic makeup artists a little bit of inspiration?  They can inspire me like that any time they want.

Or Gordon Ramsey’s Hell’s Kitchen. Most of those contestants are animals from the start, but when they win challenges they do things like go sailing or have champagne lunch on the beach or, for the final competitors, a night in a suite at the Four Seasons Hotel in Los Angeles. With a view!

I know I sound like I’m jealous — and I am. I know there are only a few that can rise to the top, creamy white and perfect. Some of it is luck, some of it talent, but a lot of it is throwing hangups and insecurities to the wind and just going for it. It’s using that innate talent that we all have and doing something with it, not being afraid to put it out there; not being afraid to fail.

I think I’ve always been afraid to put it out there because I’ve always been afraid to fail.

Our parents raise us as well as they can. Their hangups, their ignorance, seep into our growth whether we want it to or not. But their confidence, their dreams, their positive reinforcement seep into our growth as well. Cheering us on at soccer games, sitting and listening to us in choir concerts, marveling at our crayon drawings, all help us feel better about ourselves.

This is where our power as an adult comes from. Where it can be used for good or for evil.

I have always been what I consider a “nice  girl.” I was picked on through middle school, but I got passed it and moved along through boyfriends and job. Married and had kids. During my lonely days I kept a journal. I wrote stories. I aged. I role played, which was impromptu writing. I kept more journals. More stories. Poetry. More writing. My parents were good to me, but they never really encouraged me to follow my dream.  Maybe I should have gone to college and been an English or Writing major. But they didn’t have the money and I didn’t have the focus. To be honest, I don’t think a lot of us did that back then.

There are always a lot of winners and losers in the world. Only one person can become a Master Chef. Only one person can be the owner of the fanciest restaurant in San Francisco or Accountant of the Year.

But there are a lot of wonderful, brilliant, fun people at number two. Or three. Or seventeen. After we get over our jealousy of what others “get” (which…come on…we all feel…at least initially), we can can celebrate our love of our craft no matter where we are. We can encourage our kids and grandkids to go for what they want. What’s the worst that can happen? They don’t become number one? So what?

Parents have the power to make that okay, too.

That doesn’t mean we don’t teach our kids and grandkids to compete. The working world is still a working world, and you rarely get ahead by being cute or dressing like Beverly Hills. Most successful people know what they can and cannot do, and go after what they can do.  They work hard, play hard, and love hard, so when failure comes their way they have other outlets waiting for them.

I still would love to be one of the portraits hanging down the Food Network Studio Hallway, but my cooking skills would never stand up against those with more experience. No matter — I know a couple of kids who love to cook. Why not encourage them along the way? Encourage them to have fun while they hone their skills? For that matter, why not say something positive about someone’s poem or drawing or how well they hit a baseball? What have you got to lose?

I’m still working on putting myself out there creative-wise. What have I got to lose? Besides — I still have time to push J.K. Rowling off her throne and take her publishing crown.

Even if it is too small for this swollen head…

 

It’s such a Trifling Experience

Raspberry-AmarettoTrifleBeing stuck inside a Wisconsin winter, even the easiest-going person can find themselves absorbed in the business of escape. Some plan summer vacations. Some make ice sculptures. Some bury themselves under layers of blankets and wait for the first ray of sun to melt a snow mound or ten.  Me? I watch cooking shows. Now, I watch the Food Network year-round. No biggie. But the it becomes a problem when I think I can actually COOK like the Iron Chef or the Master Chef.  Like, if I only took a few hours and paid attention and bought all the right food and wrote down every little detail, that my dish might look (and taste) like Iron Chef Michael Simon’s or Gordon Ramsey’s.

I imagine I could just as well try to paint like Monet or sing like Beyoncé.

I watched Master Chef Junior recently and was humbled by what 9- and 10- and 12-year-olds could do with a basket or a piece of fish.  I have seen what Rachel Ray and Guy Fieri’s kids did during a cook off. Then there’s always what the contestants on Chopped make out of pickled pigs feet and reindeer pate. Amazing. And, of course, there’s always Rachel and Robert and Guy and Alton who make gourmet out of kitchen scraps. I look at my jar of garlic powder and pound of lean ground beef and feel overwhelmed.

Don’t get me wrong. I love cooking. I have whipped up many a gourmet dish in my time. My homemade spaghetti sauce is to die for (or at least good enough to have third helpings). I have tried trifles, coq au vin, and shrimp scampi. But with working full time and a few personal bumps and my anti-cancer meds making me tired and sunset before I get home and below zero temperatures — let’s just say my cooking aspirations have turned into mounds of grey slush. Kinda flat and uninspiring.

I know it will come full circle — that with spring flinging in a few months I will whip out the cookbooks or surf the Food Network website and I’ll be wowing my dinner guests and myself.

Until then, I think I’ll let my husband cook.

How bout you? Are you cooking away a storm these freezy days?