a little help never hurts

This past Wednesday, I took a break from struggling to cook successfully on my own and visited a classmate, Domenica, for some cooking lessons.

She seems quite the culinary master (at least compared to someone like me, who has managed to burn boiled potatoes more than once) and uses her world travels to inspire weekly cooking sessions with her friend’s two kids. One, a seventh grader, seems like she’s probably smarter than me and a better chef.

Image

Still, I did my part and julienned some cucumbers and carrots for spring rolls. The process took me about 65 minutes longer than it should have, and the slices were still probably not thin enough, but eventually I got to a point where I was too ashamed to keep chopping.

These spring rolls were super easy and really delicious. We used rice paper wrappers to bind the ingredients together—with those, you just soak them in water for a couple of minutes to render them pliable and then carefully wrap them around your veggie slices, noodles, chopped peanuts, herbs, shrimp, tofu, and whatever else you have on hand. (Ooh, what if you wrapped them around bacon and chocolate and then deep fried them til they were no longer recognizable, and then topped them with powdered sugar?)

Image

Can you tell it’s that time of the month?

We also had shrimp wontons and tempeh. Domenica had picked up some items from a local Asian market, one of which was…grass jelly drink? If I’m remembering correctly. It was thick, brown, and slightly sweet, with cubed chunks of…something. Tapioca, or gelatin. Might be good with lots of vodka. Or poured into a glass next to a cheeseburger and then set aside indefinitely.

Domenica showed me around her home before I left, which she and her husband had decorated with eclectic works of art ranging from Picasso sketches to naive art to a fascinating postmodern art installation about slavery.

So like, I kind of want to be her when I’m older. I now have several things to add to the aspirational self list.

Image

In other news, my aspirational self and my real self have converged for one of the few times in recorded history through the practice of power yoga. This is essentially yoga, which is already hard as balls for someone as out of shape as myself, but sped up and heated so it feels just like torture. I’ve never sweat so much in my life. When we moved on to something called the “pro pose,” which is when people lift their hips and bent legs off of the ground using upper-body strength, I maintained the “dolphin pose” balanced on a foam block and actually started to laugh. I’m not sure why I was amused—maybe I was simply on the brink of insanity. The instructor kept not-so-discreetly mentioning “people who look like they don’t want to be here,” which I have to assume was me, since every 5 minutes I had to wipe a swamp of sweat off of my face in order to see.

I will say, though, that yoga has been awesome, and I’m just getting started. I do feel great when I finish—relaxed, more mentally clear, and like I’ve just had a really beneficial workout. I hope to continue for as long as I can!

how to make your entire house smell like a pond

Let me begin by saying that The Fresh Market is quite a dangerous place, unless you happen to have an endless supply of money. The ambiance is always much nicer than the local Kroger—meaning there aren’t clusters of homeless people loitering outside—with lush floral displays, tables stacked with nuts and candy, rows of fresh herbs and spices, a spotless deli and yummy coffee samples.

Image

I went to pick up some vegetables and also a catfish fillet for the catfish creole I planned to cook for dinner, enough to last the week. I had to force myself to leave behind unnecessary temptations, like an overpriced container of dark chocolate almonds. At this point, though, I kind of wish I had purchased the almonds and scrapped the catfish.

My hands, after three soap and water scrubs and a spritz of perfume, still smell like they were recently elbow-deep in a giant catfish corpse. As I cooked, my small kitchen, which is door-less and attached to my studio apartment, quickly absorbed the pervasive scent of a vagina that has never been washed.

Sorry, I think I took that one too far.

Anyway, after such an appealing preface, allow me to share this recipe with you. Maybe you’re more accustomed to handling raw fish and not as sensitive to the pond-like odor.

Image

First, you’ll need a catfish fillet. Preferably fresh, not frozen. When you cut this bad boy into 3/4-inch chunks, your knife will catch disturbingly on little strings in the meat. Or maybe that just happened to me because I literally have two “sharp” knives, which are maybe a little sharper than a butter knife.

As a vegetarian who eats the occasional fish dish (meaning, at a restaurant or a frozen salmon fillet I stick in the oven), I’m not used to handling any kind of raw meat. This took some courage. But I—ever the amateur—thought it would all be worthwhile.

You’ll want to start cooking your rice first, especially if you’re cooking brown rice (that’s what I use). One cup of uncooked rice is about four servings. That’s how much I prepared, since I thought this was a recipe that could sustain me for a few days.

In a medium saucepan (I’ve never fucking heard it called that except in recipes. So, just a pan), bring the following to a boil: a 16 oz. can of stewed tomatoes (with the juice), 2 tsp. dried minced onion, 1 tsp. vegetable bouillon (the original recipe called for chicken, but I used a vegan one…it also called for “granules,” and who the hell knows what that is, or even what a bouillon is. I used a cube), 1/2 tsp. dried oregano, 1/4 tsp. garlic powder, and 1/8 tsp. hot pepper sauce (hot sauce? The hell? I used some sriracha).

photo-100

I also added about 1/2 c of sliced up carrot, as well as a sliced up green bell pepper. Because, you know, I wanted to waste as much food as possible.

Add in the slimy catfish chunks and cook them until tender. Or you can do what I did and cook them for an indefinite amount of time, until they literally start disintegrating into the creole mixture. I thought overcooking would make it more bearable—some psychological quirk.

You’re technically supposed to cover the pan, but I didn’t have a lid large enough. So, I tried to use a cutting board. That didn’t exactly work…it started to smoke.

Image

Catfish are maybe the most horrifying things found in freshwater. It absolutely stuns me that anyone would think it a good idea to grab them with their bare hands. I mean, that sounds absolutely like a punishment.

Image

I think I forgot how fishy they taste. Maybe “fishy” isn’t the right word. Maybe “exactly like the bottom of a pond” would be more accurate. This seems logical, since catfish are bottom feeders and spend their nights eating all the debris and shit at the bottom of bodies of water and also looking heinous.

Serve the catfish creole over the rice. I tried to eat some, discovered that I could NOT get the smell of raw fish off of my hands, and shoved it all into my refrigerator. Then I opened my window, lit two candles, and doused my wrists in my strongest perfume. Everything still smells like the asshole of the Creature from the Black Lagoon.

Tonight’s dinner was a bowl of cereal and half a peanut butter sandwich, served with a side of self-pitying, hormonal, regressing, I-just-want-someone-to-cook-me-dinner-but-I-only-live-with-a-brainless-feline tears (cat wouldn’t even eat the stuff! And he eats rubber bands!)

We live and we learn, friends. Now I know to buy the chocolate almonds next time and call it a night.

simple asparagus pasta

Image

I came up with this simplistic recipe myself after realizing that I needed to cook the asparagus that had been sitting in my fridge for days (I always like to keep some on hand to add variety to the smell of my pee…my life is pretty uneventful). That’s right, folks, I came up with a recipe. Hence the fact that it is so easy, I think a blind paraplegic could do it.

Just kidding, they couldn’t.

All you need for this meal is some asparagus, some pasta, some herbs, maybe some salt and pepper, olive oil, and preferably a lemon.

Cook the pasta while you roast the asparagus in the oven. Spread the stalks out on a cookie sheet lined with foil, drizzle them in olive oil, lemon juice (I had no lemon and was sad about this fact), salt, and pepper. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees and cook them for 10-12 minutes.

Once the asparagus and pasta are both cooked through, cut the asparagus into bite-sized pieces. This was unexpectedly hard as fuck since the asparagus (asparagi?) were still not very tender, at all. Mix them in with the pasta and add a little extra olive oil, salt and pepper to taste. I’m growing some herbs on my balcony (not just aspirationally, but in real life!), so I tossed in some fresh sweet basil and Italian parsley, too.

Image

This would be good served with some grated Parmesan, but, alas, I don’t have that, either.

Enjoy! And remember to cite me if you use this recipe, since no one has come up with anything similar, ever. 😉

sea salt + nutella cookies

My parents came to visit me this weekend. We did a campy ghost tour on Friday night aboard the “Trolley of the Doomed,” and I convinced them to take me out to local fancy restaurants that I wouldn’t have otherwise experienced. I ate lots of seafood and drank many a mojito (and the occasional mint julep—it just seemed too apropos to resist).

They stayed at an inn near the river, so we spent more time on River St. than I would have liked. The cobblestone strip is always full of drunk tourists moseying along wearing clothes that are two sizes too small. The weather was lovely, though, so any excuse to be outside was just fine.

Image

Today it’s dreary. Here’s a list of things to do on a dreary Sunday such as this:

1.) Drink lots of wine alone

1.) Drink some cocktails with friends (or your cat)

2.) Clean! Or, do what I do and half-assedly run some Clorox wipes over 1/3 of the surfaces in your home, then push some stuff under the bed

3.) Get some homework done

3.) Get some work Make a to-do list

4.) Bake cookies!

I found the recipe for these nutella and sea salt cookies on this adorable blog. It’s fantastically easy and requires only five ingredients.

Image

Here’s what you’ll need:

• 1 c nutella (or, like, basically one of those normal-sized containers)
• 2 tbsp. brown sugar
• 1 egg
• 1/2 c flour
• coarse sea salt to top
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Mix all of these ingredients together, minus the sea salt. An electric mixer works best, but since I don’t have one, I mixed the batter by hand. This is totally possible, but requires a little more (wo)manpower. After the ingredients are combined, stick the bowl in the fridge for 10 minutes (or maybe longer, actually, like 15. I didn’t feel like 10 was quite enough). When I pulled out the batter, it was kind of wet and crumbly. I really don’t know why. But, it’s cool.
Roll the stuff into balls and bake for about 10 more minutes (size-wise, I aimed for a little smaller than a golf ball). Pull ’em out, sprinkle liberally with salt (this is key—it gives the cookie its appeal by adding a nice contrast to the rich, chocolate flavor), and let them cool a bit.
The cookies weren’t as aesthetically pleasing as I’d hoped, but they still tasted like sweet little fairy turds. Bon appetit!
Image
Image

whatever wednesday

Maybe I can make mac ‘n’ cheese without following a recipe, I thought naively. It was a Wednesday, warm outside and growing darker. I was, as usual, pantsless and watching shows on Bravo about Rachel Zoe/rich housewives/the Kardashians, etc. (I live alone.)

(Well, actually, I live with a 95-lb cat, who if I haven’t mentioned is at all times up for adoption.)

And thus began a new tradition: “whatever Wednesday.” Hopefully by next week this will somehow magically morph into “totally awesome, delicious culinary masterpiece Wednesday,” but not today.

No, this Wednesday I was too lazy to check up on how to make a roux, so I heated up some oil and then added in about a handful of flour. After a while this mixture turned brown and started to separate and smell funny, like burned popcorn. The underdeveloped logical side of my brain kicked in, and I decided to pour this out and start over. With butter and flour. That didn’t really thicken, either.

photo(11)

Well, what the hell! I added in some cheese, anyway. The mixture became stickier, so I added some milk. Voila—that allowed it to thicken a little. Then I added some random spices (meaning, what I had in my cabinet, meaning, garlic salt) and, well, eventually I added some marinara sauce from a jar because I had stopped giving a f*ck about 10 minutes ago.

The sauce wasn’t awful. I cooked some locally made conchiglie pasta that was really excellent and used the sauce sparingly. Then I watched a pro-vegan documentary on Netflix called Vegucated and decided that I never wanted to eat anything ever again. Or, at least I’ll feel guilty for more than 5 minutes the next time I drunkenly break down and guzzle a bacon cheeseburger.

I have a question for anyone with any domestic know-how: why does water boil over like this when you cook something starchy, like pasta? How can this be prevented? I’ve tried adding/subtracting water, but this doesn’t seem to make any difference.

photo(10)She’s seriously asking a question about boiling water…oh, brother.

chickpea and potato picadillo

photo(7)

I took Spanish in college, enough to realize that I’m terrible at speaking Spanish. So I’m not quite sure how to pronounce this…I’m guessing pee-ka-dee-yo.

Po-tay-toe. Ay-und.

I found this Latin American recipe on a site called the vegetarian times. I’m a fan of anything that involves chopping stuff up and cooking it in a big pot/pan for an indeterminate amount of time. Seems foolproof. And I felt like I needed a little redemption after burning the shit out of that bread.

Today my aspirational self (and chef) was a little more in line with reality. Despite sleeping through a 7:30 a.m. phone call informing me that a spot had opened up for me to sea kayak today with a meetup group, and despite waking up to a text from the aforementioned psychic saying “Hello Sorry I can NOT work with you,” I had a pretty nice day. The weather was perfect for an afternoon run followed by a trip to Kill-Me-Now Kroger and some apartment cleanup (idiot cat puked, twice. It is a useless and disgusting thing).

photo(9)

This is entirely unrelated, but there is a woman who lives a couple of houses down from me who talks louder than anyone should ever talk, and somehow she’s always outside, talking. Her tone is exactly like those people you hear in supermarkets talking louder and slower to foreigners who can’t understand English. I want to do something abrupt like light my desk on fire and push it off the balcony. Anything to make her shut up for a second.

OK, back to the topic of this post. Killing this woman. I mean, sorry—I can’t hear myself think. Vegetarian picadillo.

Here’s what you need:

A fucking blowtorch

• 2 medium-sized Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
• 3 tbsp. olive oil
• 1 tbsp. ground cumin
• 1 15-oz. can chickpeas, drained
• 1/3 cup dark raisins (dark raisins, as in, not Craisins? That’s what I assumed)
• 1 tsp. dried Mexican oregano (so…I just had regular oregano)
• 1 15-oz. can diced tomatoes (I used fire roasted, and they worked well)
• 1 tbsp. red wine vinegar
• 1/8 tsp. ground cloves (oooh, I love the way these smell!)
• 1 c chopped green onions (equivalent to a little bundle you buy at the supermarket)

Put the potato chunks in a medium-sized bowl, fill it 1/3 with water, cover and microwave. This will start to cook them through and save time. Microwave for about 4-5 minutes.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat (large, meaning, larger than the one you see in my picture—I had to stir carefully to avoid spillage) and add the cumin. Then add in the raisins, oregano, chickpeas and potatoes. Saute for a few minutes, then add in the red wine vinegar, cloves and canned tomatoes with juice. Bring to a simmer for 10-15 minutes. During the last couple of minutes, add in the green onions (I didn’t end up using all of mine. Additionally, I wished I had had more raisins. This might just be personal preference).

I served mine with brown rice and corn tortillas. I had a few friends over to eat, drink wine and play Cards Against Humanity, aka the best game on the planet (if you’re a horrible person…which, ahem, I’m trying not to be. Sometimes).

photo(8)

blackened zucchini bread

Image

There’s just enough tension in this blog to keep things interesting. This tension—between my expectations for myself and my actual abilities and accomplishments—has plagued me (and my therapists) for pretty much my entire life.

For example, today I had hoped to:

A) Wake up early and get some homework/interviews done
B) Go for a nice, brisk walk or run
C) Visit the SCAD career fair with a fresh face and plenty of copies of my résumé to go around
D) Plant an herb garden on my balcony
E) Clean my apartment
F) Bake some deliciously perfect zucchini bread.

Here’s what actually happened:

A) I woke up at 10:30 a.m. with a hangover and found a half-eaten bag of Cool Ranch Doritos in the kitchen
B) Walked in the rain without an umbrella to wait for the ever-evasive psychic I’m hoping to interview for an assignment
C) Didn’t make it to the career fair
D) Spoke with the psychic after she stood me up in an attempt to set up a specific interview time—she got my number (why did she need to ask for it?) and said she would “text me in the morning”
E) Burned the everliving shit out of some zucchini bread
F) Had a drink at Wet Willie’s and called it a night.

We can’t view these things as “failures” because that only leads to anxiety and depression. It’s all relative, anyway.

Right?

photo(6)

I’m going to provide you with the recipe, anyway, and just blame my misfortune on the fact that my pint-sized oven is the equivalent of a kid’s Easy Bake. (Also maybe the fact that I suck, hard, at cooking.)

I based most of my recipe off of this smitten kitchen version, the only difference being that I didn’t mix all the dry ingredients together before incorporating them into the wet ingredients (there was no well-informed reason for this—I just didn’t care enough).

Here’s what you’ll need:

• 3 eggs
• 1 c olive oil (or vegetable oil…or, whatever)
• 1 3/4 c sugar
• 2 c grated zucchini (this was surprisingly easy to grate; I used my mom’s old 19th century prototype grater and had no trouble)
• 2 tsp vanilla extract
• 3 c all-purpose flour
• 3 tsp cinnamon (that sounds like a lot because it is)
• 1/8 tsp nutmeg (alas, I had none, so I added more cinnamon)
• 1 tsp baking soda
• 1/2 tsp baking powder
• 1 tsp salt
• 1/2 c chopped walnuts or pecans (I used walnuts)

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Generously grease two 8X4 loaf pans (mine were 8X2 because I couldn’t find a different size, and if you’ve ever been to the downtown Kroger, you know that everyone there is a hot mess 24/7, i.e. either 400 lbs and in a motorized cart, talking to themselves like a schizophrenic, or pulling 5 hysteric kids along behind them, so I didn’t take much time to look for the appropriate size. I apologize to my girlfriend for being too judgmental—you’re right, I am. But really).

Beat the eggs in a large bowl. Then add in the sugar, oil, vanilla and zucchini. The mixture will begin to look like mucus with little green things floating in it.

photo(4)

Add whatever the hell else you have left. If you want to be meticulous, combine the dry ingredients first—you could even sift them if you want to be a real douche—and then slowly mix them in. (Side note: I accidentally deleted my entire original post, so I’m having to re-write it. Hence the unnecessarily aggressive language. Sorry…)

Pour the batter into the pans and bake for about an hour, or until an inserted toothpick or knife comes out clean. I checked mine after about 45 minutes, and their centers were still gelatinous. So I stepped away for about .2 seconds, and when I returned, this is what I found:

photo(3)

I sang a chorus of the word “balls,” along with some other choice words, for a good minute or so. I really had high hopes for this one, guys. I mean, I really expected it to turn out OK— not looking like it had just emerged from the fires of hell.

My aspirational chef is a 50s-housewife-domestic-goddess-meets-liberated-modern-feminist-who-can-cook-for-herself. She wears an apron in an ironically postmodern way, and looks cute wearing it.”Microwaves,” she says, “are for the weak.”

Yet here I was, covered in flour, staring incredulously at the zucchini bread that looked as if I had angrily blow-torched the shit out of it.

There’s a disconnect here.

Luckily, it wasn’t too hard to saw off the charred bits, and though the inside of the bread was a little too dry, it was still light and flavorful.

photo(2)

photo(1)

It’s a process, folks. A long and arduous process. But this finished product ain’t too shabby.

Tomorrow: dinner! For guests! Stay tuned.