When ego leads to epic fail in the kitchen

Did you ever have to completely own that maybe you didn’t know better than the recipe? Then you understand my pain right now.

Continue reading “When ego leads to epic fail in the kitchen”

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Recreating my comfort zone: Kitchen updates

For me, food is love. It is self-love through giving your body wonderful tasting food that nourishes body and soul, as well as for loved ones as you show those close to you that you love them enough to do the same for them. Your body will only feel good, physically and mentally, if you put good food into it; and hence, eating is an almost spiritual practice. And my kitchen is meant to be a reflection of that ideal.

_MG_1096Where does the time go? It’s rather sad that it’s been almost two months since I’ve graced my blog with my presence.

But fear not, reader for I have been far from idle! In fact, I’ve been busy whipping my kitchen into shape the last couple of months.

The kitchen is the heart of my home. For me, it represents a place for families to get together around a table, break bread, and discuss their day, their hopes, and their dreams. It is filled with nutritious meals, fine smells, and exotic textures and tastes for adults to take pride and pleasure in, and for children to experience as they learn about the world around them. It is a place centered around the pleasure of the taste buds, and the enjoyment of good company sharing in that moment and those culinary adventures.

For me, food is love. It is self-love through giving your body wonderful tasting food that nourishes body and soul, as well as for loved ones as you show those close to you that you love them enough to do the same for them. Your body will only feel good, physically and mentally, if you put good food into it; and hence, eating is an almost spiritual practice. And my kitchen is meant to be a reflection of that ideal.

In essence, it is an extension of myself as I create and prepare tangible and tasty “love” for family and friends.

While my partner jokes that so many families have exchanged family for their alters dedicated to the big glowing box in the living room these days, the kitchen was once the center of activity in the American home.

And yes, many Americans have lost their way from the traditional family Mecca that is the kitchen. They’ve forgotten the art of passing down family recipes and even the art of how to boil water, never mind combining spices, flavors, and foods before broiling, baking, or stewing. We as a culture have become such an on-the-go, throwaway culture that the stove top has practically become a vestigial appliance. An antique that smacks of the days of Norman Rockwell. An anachronism.

So how do we fix it? We start small.

But what a true kitchen novice needs to do before he or she even puts knife to food is to create an environment that they feel comfortable in. If done right, cooking can be time consuming. From the preparation to the actual cooking, to the post-cooking cleanup, we have to commit to being in the kitchen for blocks of time in our day. So why even try cooking in a room that does not appeal to you? If it isn’t pleasing or comfortable, or doesn’t reflect your personality, your interest will fade fast.

Even slapping some nice paint on the walls is a great start to developing a little creative culinary corner. It’s amazing how a little paint can completely transform a room. My partner and I finally got around to sponge painting our kitchen this past spring. It has given the room an entirely different cozy look. The change has even brightened my attitude about the dark color scheme I had chosen several years ago.

old kitchen
The messy, old, less than efficient kitchen space.
New kitchen look
While it’s nothing earth-shattering, for me the new paint job and neatened counters and decorated shelves do just enough to dress the kitchen and make it cozy and fun to cook in!
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I’d been unhappy with the army green I’d mistakenly chosen, and wanted to touch up the paint for years. While sponge painting was labor intensive and took two of us five hours to complete, it gives the room a new dimension – and made it brighter and more cheery in general.

Next, why not add some themed towels? I like coffee and herbs, and my first purchases for my kitchen were towels and hot mitts that reflect these interests. Over time I’ve added little figurines, food related calendars, and even art to hang on the walls.

Only recently, I’ve started to decorate the blank space on top of my cabinets. Due to having three adventurous cats, I’ve been cautious about what I put up there. But by blocking up the open end of the cupboard top with a basket and decorative silk flowers, we were able to solve that problem

IMG_2068And so, my partner and I began to adorn the space with the easiest and most applicable kitchen accessories possible: Food, and the tools that help us prepare it. Or as he puts it, “functional art.” We’ve put dry food items like beans and chili peppers in glass jars all along the top to dress up the empty space. Even added a decorative set of measuring spoons to dangle from a hook, beside a traditional looking tea set we no longer use.

And since we’d moved in together and had two of nearly everything, we’ve stored some of the doubles, such as a French press and knife block, up there, too. On our counters, we have artful, yet perfectly serviceable, food tools on display such as a molcajete (large mortar and pestle), a Japanese cast iron tea set, a class cutting board decorated with drawings of herbs.

jarsAnd most recently, we’ve changed over all the messy bags of foods to storage in glass jars. I am much happier with my pantry and cupboards, which are neatly arranged with dry food goods that I can readily ID at a glance. This was essential for the bag of flour I had, which spewed white fluff every time you went anywhere near it. And I’ve recently started investigating crochet and macrame that can dress the glass jars up, too.

The possibilities are endless.

Like any room of the house, our kitchen continues to be a work in progress. It will constantly reflect our personalities. Our ideals. Our spirit. Our love.

What have you done with your kitchen that makes cooking just a little more cozy and fulfilling?

My top 10 kitchen prep essentials

While perusing a book I’d recently acquired on food and cooking (totally out of character for me, right, to pick up yet another cookbook? You can all laugh now), a section in it got me to thinking. The book proposed 12 essential tools for the kitchen. While I had everything except two (though both were on my list of things to get!), I started wandering through my own kitchen for my personal cooking “must-haves.”

Besides the usual suspects (pots, pans, wooden spoon, etc.), I came up with 10 very essential kitchen/cooking tools I could not live without:

1)

Besides salt and salsa, this is a culinary essential that I put on nearly everything. I use it daily. It’s a healthier alternative to butter when cooking, and just plain delicious in salads, pastas, etc. So yes, you can say it’s a dangerous thing to take me into a specialty olive oil store with flavored olive oils…it’s better than going to a wine tasting! 😉

2)

This is NOT just another pretty light fixture. These under-the-cupboard lights have made my small kitchen a nighttime cooking utopia. Besides adding a nice touch of mood lighting, they supplement light right above where I need it – my work area on my counters. Until I installed these, I was always working under my own shadow cast from my kitchen lights above/behind me. Wouldn’t prep a single meal without these beautiful lights, now!

3)

Pretty, and purposeful! Bought this heavy-duty, wrought-iron decorative cookbook holder on a whim one day, and boy, I’ve never regretted it. I had no idea how much I was suffering without a place to put my magazine/cookbook/or what-have-you recipe source. It used to flop all over the place, was always in the way, or way the heck out of the way while I prepared foods. Now it sits right above my sink, near where I prepare most of my ingredients, and was worth every penny. Don’t get anywhere near as much food splatter and stains on my cookbooks now!

4)

The ever holy dishwasher….no more needs be said 😀 Course, the nasty unavoidable hard water stains are an unfortunate side effect, but it’s something I live with for the convenience.

5)

Everyday tools of the trade – and I mean, every day. I use at least two of this knife set every single day, and two to three of these cutting boards a week. It’s crazy, but these culinary weapons are the most powerful of them all. Try doing a thing in the kitchen without them. While I don’t have different colors, as suggested by many sources so you can differentiate between your meat and your veggie cutting boards when prepping a meal, I do have different sizes instead, and helps me keep track. And of course, need the knife sharpener. When you use two of the knives out of this set as much as I do, and suddenly one day you discover that you can’t even cut through a tomato, it’s a handy thing to have. The sharpening stick that comes with the block can only do so much.

6)

Once a week, I oil my babies up. In this picture, I have both a bottle of mineral oil (food safe variety) and mineral oil wipes. I like the wipes SO much more. It’s less messy, and keeps both you and the counter a whole lot less greasy when you’re done. On the other hand, there is one board I have that is not quite as polished and sanded as I’d like, and tends to shred the wipes – and so, I have to resort to the oil and a rag. I detest that job, and hence don’t use that board much/don’t wipe it down as much as I should. But it keeps your boards happy and hydrated, and they last much longer.

7)

Sorry for the unsightly hard water stains, folks. Fact of life out here in the desert. But here is one of my major must haves…doubles! I hate to wash dishes, and often enough had found myself in the past lacking in required measuring ware because it was in the dishwasher. Now, even if I end up using one of these sets, I have an extra one just in case I don’t get a chance to throw the dishwasher on before I need it again. Sometimes I’ve even needed to measure out the same measurement, but for two different items within one recipe…one liquid, and one solid. It’s great to know you don’t have to stop in the middle of everything to wash, rinse, and thoroughly dry a measuring cup in the middle of a baking mess.

8)

As any single person, I cook enough to produce enough leftovers to carry me throughout the week. And so what is especially important…see-through storage containers! I have a bachelor friend that boasts that he simply takes the pot off the stove, throws a cover over it, and into the fridge it goes. Sure, saves on some extra steps and dishes, but…makes it hard to stack things, you lose your pot for an indeterminable amount of time, and depending on what’s in it, can stain or adversely affect the pot. And yes, you can store your foodstuffs in old butter and yogurt containers, but if they’re at all perishable, you’ll quickly forget what’s in what in your fridge, and eventually lose a clear inventory of what should be eaten first! I’m not that much of an enterprising person who will label all of her food containers. With see through tupperware, it’s as easy as just looking in my fridge. Good for bringing salad to work or other non-microwave-required cooking. Microwaving just unleashes a whole mess of toxins in your food that you could do without.

9)

Let’s just say that one Thanksgiving, I found myself grievously deficient in mixing bowls. They’re something you scoff at buying until you find yourself in that position. I know my little soup bowls don’t do it for me. You may not use them often, but they’ll save your butt when you find the need to!

10)

Mmmm, yummy. Yup, it’s what it looks like – kitchen scraps. Mine is a very compost-friendly kitchen. While I have yet to successfully keep a garden, I do compost regularly, and like my leftovers to be able to recycle organically for the benefit of other living things (especially something as beneficial as living things you can eat!). Anything from egg shells to banana peels and potato shavings…it’s a go. I tend to use the plastic containers my salad greens come in rather than my own tupperware, but, somehow, I ended up using that just past week. I wouldn’t suggest using something you want to use again for your kitchen compost-bound ingredients.

And those are the Holy Ten in my kitchen! What are yours?

ADDENDUM

These three are essential for any numbers-challenged person. My father used to cut out pieces of paper with this information, and tape it to the inside of cupboard doors.  These are much more handy as fridge magnets 😀 I use them wisely, and I use them well.

A foodie’s inspiration: Food, or inner drive to please?

What is your inspiration to cook? 

I am a self-diagnosed, obsessive-compulsive foodie. Anything food-related makes me want to drop everything and investigate. So, when I stumbled across the above linked video spot for the BBC’s new show No Kitchen Required last week on happenstance, I clicked through, because the tagline “What inspires you to cook” intrigued me.

In this short promotional, three chefs competing on the show were posed with this compelling question. The first competing chef, Michael Psilakis quoted, “all true chefs are gift-givers by nature” as the bedrock of his understanding for why he loved food, and to cook. The quote inspired me to consider my own creative, culinary nature, and what drove me to cook and enjoy hosting food-related events in general. What I came up with is, Psilakis was right on target.

Food has always been a passion of mine. Especially in the last few years, I have grown an insatiable, never exhausted drive to explore new and experimental flavors, colors, textures, and vittles in general that have all of the above and nourishes and heals the body. But the seeds started growing inside me a lot earlier than that.

lunch tray
The school lunch - not as healthy and appetizing as a five-star restaurant, but it was where my relationship with food blossomed. _____________~.~_____________

My relationship with food is an interesting one. It had a distinct role in my early childhood. As every parent endures, I went through many phases of likes and dislikes of food. But being monetarily minded as my parents were, it was instilled in me at a very early age that getting up from the table without having a completely cleaned off plate was not even an option. I learned quickly. But my eating habits eventually became based on the pleasure of the food rather than that rule in itself, which I took with me to any table-side meal. Further insight into my curiosity about food is that I was never a girly-girl growing up. Clothes shopping? Only if I had to. Hanging out with mall rats? Pass! But if my mom or dad were going out to the supermarket – I could hardly hold down my excitement. I never missed a trip to Stop & Shop if I could help it.

At mealtimes, though, it got to the point that it truly horrified me when I saw any food being wasted. Rather than see my friends just throw half of their hot school lunches out in elementary school, I would scoop their servings into my tray and save the food from being slung into the garbage can at the end of lunch period. Sometimes I got two or three servings from several friends who weren’t going to eat a particular item that day. This practice eventually earned me the moniker of “Hoover” – as in the vacuum.

At home, I was more lovingly referred to as the “human garbage disposal.”

Food tastes so good, and it was such a gift! I couldn’t bear to sit by the wayside and see such beautiful, tasty  meals go unappreciated.

As I grew older, though, the desire to expose those other than myself to that gift I find so precious became more and more prevalent. I didn’t want to just eat and enjoy food, I wanted to share that feeling! You can’t please everyone – as the school lunch cafeteria showed me – but I was sure going to try. When in a relationship, I had a ready Guinea pig for my experiments. On a larger scale, like my grandmother before me that passed away a year ago last week, I adore to host events. I can easily slave for hours, preparing healthy-minded, organic finger foods (and just recently, wine-tastings). Everything I prepare, I do from scratch as much as possible. It’s time-consuming, but a labor of love. To craft each food is like infusing a part of myself with it.

Although several of the attempts I’ve made to host parties in the past were all colossal failures (trust me, making the food does NOT ensure that “they will come”), the pleasure in the idea is something I still cling to. I love the presentation using color & texture (this includes the plateware on which things are served), watching people’s faces as they bite into my creations, their eyes as they squint slightly, trying to identify the ingredients…

The wonderful times and conversations that happen around a table where good people and good food is within reach, pleasing the senses and putting everyone in a good mood is pretty addictive. In a generation where instant gratification rules, pleasing someone’s taste buds is so satisfying – and as close to love as I can show another human being.

Of course, there are always downsides to any activity. The one thing that makes me think twice about going to town in the kitchen – is the dishes. I cannot describe to you the complete abhorrence and disinterest I have for the post-cooking cleanup ritual. I admit to having left pots and pans in the sink for several days before I begrudgingly put aside a few minutes to get them out of my way, muttering the entire time.

But it’s not that strong of a deterrent. I still break out the pots and pans on many a whimsical occasion.

So what inspires me to cook? Opening up a new world of a kind of ‘self love’ in food, with pleasuring of the senses (taste, as well as touch, smell, and sight), and sharing that collaborative affection for life with another is a true inspiration, indeed.

Food is energy. Food is pleasure. Food is life.