Hi. It’s nice to meet you, again. Howdy from South Carolina!
I’m the worst. It’s been nearly a year, what kind of blogger do I think I am!? Clearly, I am one who is seeking forgiveness for blog neglect. Please, accept my apologies!
Friends, so many awesome things have been happening lately! I moved! I’m engaged!! I have a new job! I’m back! I’ve missed this, it’s a great outlet and it requires some discipline. I’ve tossed my laziness and excuses to the side, enough of that. I dug my discipline out of the back of my closet.
Blog science in progress.
I’m experimenting, bear with me. What should I put on here? Do I really need to document what’s going on in my life for you? Or for me? I mean, facebooktwitterinstagramgoogleplusemail may not be enough, and this seems to be a personal way to connect. I’ll admit, I’m not the best when it comes to documenting every meal I create. But we’ll see. Anyway, here’s to expressing yourself through writing and getting back on the horse after you’ve fallen off and called a cab to get home.
Food rocks, and it’s a huge part of my life. But I’ve been thinking about what’s taking over my world (in the best way possible), so wedding/marriage planning may come up more often than I previously anticipated. I promise it won’t be annoying, but if it is, please let me know.
On my most recent roundtrip drive from Cincinnati to Chicago and back, I decided to indulge in a book on tape/CD this time around. I was supposed to read The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell while studying in Florence, but I hope you agree there were far more valuable ways to spend my time in Italy. I’m glad I gave Gladwell another shot, because I like what he’s on to. The book applies a good deal of real life, pop culture-induced situations and uses them as case studies, explaining social catalysts in our world today. What makes something “tip”? Within the book, Gladwell refers to connectors, mavens and salespeople– influential people have different skill sets and qualities, which he categorizes into these three buckets. Personally, I pegged myself as a connector. I cannot help but introduce people who have so much in common (not in a Yenta kind of way) and one of my favorite things in life is when my “worlds collide.” I successfully accomplished introducing my different groups of friends one New Years Eve and it turned out to be fabulous. Unfortunately, George Costanza did not have the same experience.
However, I’m prefacing this post for two reasons: a) read/listen at leisure to the book if you haven’t already and b) I am switching from my connector role to a kitchen maven. In honor of a certain friend who recently packed her bags, headed Northeast for the Big Apple and defaults to sandwiches for dinner– this goes out to you. Acting as your trusted foodie expert for the time being, allow me to share some simple and serious insight from a dabbling cook.
The Book of RuthAll good things begin when you get yourself a cookbook. Any cookbook will do the trick, though I prefer one with tips and notes and colorful pictures. My guilty pleasure was buying Ruth Reichl’s Gourmet Cookbook, solely out of desire. It is classic and glorious and has an in-depth index that makes life easy. Mark Bittman is another great recommendation; How To Cook Everything lives up to its title. You can find recipes online, but there’s something nostalgic about using a cookbook to guide you. It will also serve as a great reference for your cooking future.
Contextual Segregation Simple: wash your veggies. When it comes to meat, chicken, fish and beans, separate but equal applies. Keep those proteins separate and you and your body will thank you. There is a reason everything comes packaged separately at the grocery store, so until everything is thoroughly prepared and the bacteria has been cooked off, err on the side of caution and clean the area well.
Two Spoon Rule 1. You will need to taste your food throughout the process of cooking. 2. Just because you’re not in a restaurant does not give you the right to use the same utensil to taste. You must have more than one- use them all if necessary. They’re easy to wash! Double dipping is not allowed.Your hungry friends who randomly stop by because they can smell your culinary creations down the block will thank you.
The freezer is your friend Lots of recipes yield multiple servings, so you might be deterred to make something that would feed a small army. However, freezing meals is so easy and completely worth it. You can also pat yourself on the back when you use or save fresh produce, instead of letting it turn into a fuzz ball in the back corner of your fridge. We’ve all been there. Don’t O.D. on the same meal for a week straight- mix it up, freeze a few different meals and thank yourself later.
Size matters I am the worst when it comes to estimating. I have trained myself to go for the larger option when it comes to cutting boards, skillets, pots and pans in order to avoid mass chaos. Life is much more enjoyable when your water is not boiling over, your pasta is not on fire and onions are not scattered across the counter. When faced with the choice, go big or go home.
Ninja Knife Skills You don’t need them. You do, however, need a great knife. One that requires sharpening or at least did not come alongside a spoon and fork. The knife should be bigger than whatever you’re cutting, for the most part. When dicing, chopping, mincing or cutting anything, make sure you’re consistent. When slicing an onion, make sure you’re slicing evenly. When you use the ingredient in a dish, it will cook evenly.
Crack is whack I adore the built-in grinders attached to salt and pepper shakers. However, the steam from the stove will clog your grinder and create lots of issues down the road. Unless you’re into mushy or uneven cracked salt and pepper, grind away from the stove before you season the dish.
Don’t be a vino victim One of the most important lessons I learned in Italy is the wine you cook with should be just as good as the wine you drink. From stove to table, you should use wine that you would enjoy by the glass. Luckily, we are inundated with great wine at reasonable prices. Don’t skimp on the alcohol- you’ve only got one body. Put the best in it. My grandpa always said that; words to live by.
I love food. Questions may arise– how so do you love food? To which I respond- E: All of the above. I love food in all ways possible! I love prepping, slicing, chopping, sous-cheffing it up. I love putting together the puzzle of a meal- adding cranberry juice instead of alcohol to a really nice pork roast for a really nice occasion. (Can it be done? Indeed it can, she happily reports.) And the entertainment aspect. It’s so nice to prep and sweat and present for more than one (moi). If you’re fortunate to have friends like mine, it’s a real joy to entertain and spend time with them. And great food is always a welcome accessory.
This admiration for all things culinary became a part of my life in Florence, Italy. It was the year 2008 and I was living in the epicenter of all things lovely, expensive and va bene. Prior to my four month attempt to fit into Italy (I am incredibly pale, of Irish decent and speak perfect English), I had never dreamed of being entranced with such a chore-food. It’s a means to an end. For my time is precious, valuable and at the sage age of 22 years, cooking and dining were polarizing ideas. While I appreciated delicious food, I would have much rather someone else spent her time putting a meal together than me. Enter my mom: cook extraordinaire. Also, I considered food, cooking and entertaining the foundation for domesticity.
But my parents so graciously agreed to save me from debt for the next 20 years of life. And I was awarded a trip to Italy, to “study” in a classroom with other American kids- how cultural! That was the sell-in process. I was not dropping out of school, I was just taking an eight hour flight to another country to continue my junior year of college. There will be books! And there were… mostly written by Rick Steves. I don’t think my parents were worried, for sake of failure, but worried I would never come back to the US (possible reasons: love, Albanian capture, love). Please note: I am typing from Cincinnati, Ohio– not the breathtaking city of Fiesole. Jealous?
When our very chic and multi-lingual program coordinators led us around around the city like American ducklings, I knew that a place so beautiful held the opportunity for incredible experiences. I took my fair skinned, dark haired self to buy a) Italian boots, b) Italian scarves and c) a blank trench. Pronto- I stood out less than I had a week earlier. Not that my lime green NorthFace had anything to do with it…
An expedition I was happy to embark upon was one to the fresh food market. Il mercato is a haven for anyone who has ever eaten anything fresh, delicious or fresh and delicious. Again, I’ve always liked to eat- so this was cool. The people are what made it all real. There were Italian grandpas lovingly shouting across the aisles about blood oranges. And eggs and meat and pasta were at your very fingertips. But the adventure came to life in the kitchen- at an Italian cooking school in Altro Arno (the other side of the Arno River- where the real people live). Holy Mario Batali! I chopped, wisked, floured and sprinkled until I could not cook any more. To make the connection from market to kitchen to table was a remarkable one. The potatoes we used for gnocchi were from the neighboring vendor of the blood orange grandpa! And it was heaven. To eat. And make. And I didn’t feel like June Cleaver in pearls… intriguing.
In order to keep my spending within reason and embrace all the fresh food surrounding me, my six roommates and I prepared nearly every meal we ate in Italy. We experienced great restaurants, but as more of a treat or because we didn’t get to the market before close. Or, because there was the cutest pizza place down the street from us and the guys there loved us as if we were family. But I applaud my roommates and all of Italy for converting me into the impromptu chef and foodie in training I am today.