Calamity in the Kitchen: Day 1

Oh I’m so excited that you all actually want to hear me ramble on and on about food, cooking and my own brain’s inner workings!

I just wish I had so, so, so much more time. I know I won’t really be able to write a post every day, but we’ll see how she goes.

Okay, Day 1!

[Caution: The following is a description of one of my ‘cooking frenzy’ days. This is not necessarily to be emulated or envied folks.]

I don’t know why I do this to myself. One thing leads to another, and then there I am, in the middle of 16 cooking projects at once, and I never even got the kitchen clean. It happens once every couple of weeks. If it coincides with a kids’ good day, it might pan out. If it coincides with a bad day, take cover.

How it went was this, and I’m going to tell the whole story, because this is not about how to cook, it’s about How to Be a Home Cook, which includes all aspects of food in your life, right?

So. Start scene at 8:30, when I am otherwise ready to go, and trying to rally the 3YO for our morning outing. The Babe needs an outing round about that time, or he just fusses and fusses endlessly and drives me up the wall. Understandably, the 3YO likes to stay in her home and play in the morning, . It’s an ongoing clash. A part of motherhood that really confounds me. Let alone one’s own needs, how are you supposed to balance two separate kiddos’ needs with a mere one life?

The reason this has anything to do with anything is that it was Tuesday. Farmer’s market. In order to get there, do our business, and get back before the Babe is falling asleep all floppy headed in the bike trailer, we have to leave by 8:30.

This is pertinent because even though we did leave shortly after, he was tired early, and fell asleep in the Ergo at the market. Thus completely destroying his nap schedule for the day.

Do I need to explain why that is pertinent?

At the farmer’s market I usually get eggs and some kind of produce. Whatever looks good, which is of course how fresh markets work. But yesterday I was in the mood for some protein as well. What I wanted was fish, but get this– fish at the market is more expensive than shrimp. Jumbo shrimp were $5/lb (!) so I figured, better enjoy those Gulf shrimp before their stocks are all decimated, right? Then a small whole chicken from a nice older farmer couple selling all manner of fowl. A 2 1/2 lb chicken at $3/lb. And, it’s hot so we eat a lot of fruit here, a 3 lb box of peaches, $6. I was on my way out at that point, but Holy Shit, could it be? Eggplants 3 for $1 ?!?!?! Wow. Mostly I’ve found the farmer’s market prices not that exciting. But geez, I’ve payed $4 a piece for eggplant before in Cordova. So of course, I got 6. They were small. Ish.

Now. Do you see now how this sets the scene for the day?

In fact, the shrimp were the only things needing immediate using. If I were a saner person, I could have put the rest in the fridge for tomorrow.

But.

As soon as I saw those eggplants I remembered something I made for my last big birthday dinner which has haunted me since. An eggplant and walnut ‘pate’ with pistachio oil a friend gave me drizzled on top. Dynamite, I tell you.

The recipe was from Paula Wolfert’s Slow Mediterranean Kitchen, an incredibly gorgeous, drool inspiring book. I didn’t bring it to New Orleans with us, dammit, but I remember that the recipe started with roasting the eggplants over open flames. (I remember because, not having a grill back home, I raked the hot coals in the woodstove to one side, layed a short piece of 2×4 down opposite, and set the eggplant on that, turning it every time one side was blackened. When I pulled it out I thought, shit, I overdid it. It’s completely torched. What a waste. But no, it was magnificent.)

So. That is how I determined to fire up the grill. Then (and here’s what always happens with me, that I can not necessarily recommend, particularly to mothers of two) I thought ‘weeeell, if I’m gonna grill… I might as well grill the shrimp, that would be delicious. And heck, if I grill the chicken, it will be all cooked and ready to throw into whatever later in the week.’ And, oh yeah, I recently discovered baking flatbread on the grill. I’ve never read anything about this, but surely others have figured it out because it is absolutely brilliant. I love flatbreads. Not the cardboard pita from the grocery store, have mercy! But good fresh, chewy flatbreads, like you get at Lebanese restaurants. I have a wonderful recipe I got ages ago while traveling. But you have to bake them at 500 degrees, and even when I live in a cold place it’s hard to justify all that heat.

Enter my new propane grill. It works fantastically. They’re just like from a restaurant, in fact I suspect that must be how they do it. I’m still working on the technique a bit. More later.

So. There’s my mental line-up.

  • make flatbread dough
  • carve chicken
  • grill eggplant
  • + shrimp
  • + chicken
  • + flatbreads

But even though my brain was tick-tick-ticking all the way home, it’s not like I get to set straight to work, remember. Oh, no. The Babe, having taken a cat nap at 10 am, wouldn’t go down until noon. And then finally, with the 3YO plugged into Curious George, I got started. Like so:

Yup, a little mental space is a necessity. And, oh yeah, I forgot to mention that I was also too excited to not try the second batch of ice cream in my new ($3 at a garage sale) ice cream maker. Chocolate gelato, there’s no way I was going to put that off for a more sane day.

Now, after ten minutes of recipe perusal (can’t linger long, with a 45-90 minute timer ticking away in the other room), I was ready to face the kitchen.

And here’s the truly insane part about my ‘cooking frenzy’ days. Almost never do I start them with a clean kitchen, because almost never is my kitchen clean. And although it would make (heaps of!) sense to say, ‘okay, gotta clean the kitchen and then I can get cooking,’ do I? Oh hell no. I tell myself, ‘I’ll just get this one thing started, and then I’ll clean in between times, in the lulls.’

A truly disappointing thing to me about life is how, even now after a good 33 trips round, I fail to learn from my past. How, how? can I tell myself the same fairy tale day after day after day, for years running, and never catch my own lie?

Note to self: There will be no lulls.

Do I need to get it tatoo-ed on my arm?

So, after clearing a space just large enough for a bowl to mix up the gelato, I told myself (in earnest even! What a fool!) ‘I’ll just get this gelato going so it can be cooling. Then I’ll clean up.’

gelato is basically a cooked pudding that has to cool completely before churning it in an ice cream maker

Once the gelato was in the fridge, I remembered that the flatbread dough really needed to be started, so it could be rising. Okay. Then I’ll clean up.

I use a big white garbage bag, cut open, as a reusable cover for rising dough. Works great.

Once the dough was rising, I started looking around with my cleaning eye, and realized there was The Cantaloupe to deal with. Shit.

I had gotten the cantaloupe the day before at Whole Foods. Seduced by memories of What Melons Can Taste Like (in Italy). It had an unusual look to it, not the regular cantaloupe look, and I thought, ‘What if it’s actually good?’ So I bought it.

Of course, it was just another American cantaloupe. Almost crunchy even. Fortunately, in Central America I discovered ‘liquados.’ They take any kind of fruit and stick it in a blender with water and sugar, and mi amor! the most amazing things happen. I did this recently with a watermelon, and it was divine. A perfect answer to sub-standard fruit. So, instead of getting on to cleaning, I chopped up a less-than-desirable cantaloupe, whizzed it with water and a little sugar, and yes, made it 12 times more desirable. Magic.

the rest of the cantaloupe juice got put in the freezer in popsicle molds

But, by now, The Babe had woken up. My kitchen time was over till the afternoon nap. Sometimes he’ll play happily on the floor with tupperwares and clangey lids for awhile, but lately he’s been too fussy.

So I left the kitchen, and my half finished projects thusly:

wait a minute. I can't just leave a chicken thawing on the cutting board. Even I have some standards.

After an exhaustingly difficult mid-day, a very long lay down session, then infuriatingly a wake-up-by-3YO and subsequent re-lay-down session, I was ready to get back to my projects.

I cut up the thawed chicken (photo shoot to follow in separate post). Rolled out my flatbreads. Cut one of the eggplants up for dinner, and picked my first ever red pepper (!) for the grill as well. The 3YO played in her new trash-find swimming pool while I fired up the grill.

rolling flat breads on an oiled (virgin) trash bag

Now you’re wondering how and what exactly we are going to eat for dinner, because isn’t it about that time by now? Well, with all my projects going on, I wasn’t about to do anything else complicated. I knew I wanted to eat those shrimp, so I boiled some pasta in Trixie, then I just tossed it with garlic and shrimp. A quick dressing for the grilled eggplant slices, and at the last minute while I am trying to rally the family to the table, I am peeling the red pepper to go with the eggplant salad. Chop, chop, stir, stir.

Me: Yes, dinner really is ready. Can’t you guys set the table? (Insert last minute cooking annoyance)

My Man: Is it really ready though? You look like you’re still cooking.

Me: Listen. Set the table. By the time you are actually sitting down with your plates and forks in hand, this will be on the table.

Real Life Dinner Night #1: Shrimp and Garlic Fettucine

This is super simple once you’ve cooked and peeled the shrimp. If you aren’t grilling them like I did, just toss peeled shrimp around in a hot skillet with garlic and butter/oil until barely cooked through.

  • 1 lb whole shrimp
  • 1/2 lb whole wheat fettucine
  • 3 + Tablespoons butter
  • 3 cloves mashed roasted garlic (you know I am now addicted to that Trixified garlic but if you don’t have such Tom-foolery, just saute up 3 cloves)
  • 1 clove freshly crushed garlic
  • salt and fresh ground black pepper

Grill shrimp, cool and peel. Cook pasta. (See post about whole wheat pasta to follow. Soon, really. It’s already half writ.) Drain, reserving a little of the cooking water (1/2 cup?). Heat butter and roasted garlic, or saute your 3 cloves, whichever. Add shrimp. S & P to taste. Stir in fresh crushed garlic for a few seconds, then mix in pasta. Serve!

Grilled Eggplant and Red Pepper Salad

Cut one eggplant into rounds. Cut a red pepper in quarters. Brush each with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Grill all till tender, placing pepper skin side down so that the skin gets all black and charred. Yum! While they’re cooking, in the ‘lull’ you’re supposed to use for cleaning, make a simple dressing, then toss hot eggplant with it. ‘Sweat’ red pepper under an overturned bowl for a few minutes, then remove peel. Chop and add to salad. Get on the table before the Husband sets the silverware so you can say, “Nyah.”

Culinary lessons to be learned tonight kids:

  • Always save a little pasta water to use in your sauce. Especially if your “sauce” is just butter and garlic.
  • Cooked plus fresh garlic equals zinga-dinga-bing-bong!!
  • Butter is good.
  • Grilling is good.
  • If you’re making a cold salad out of cooked veggies, dress them while they’re still hot, for maximum flavor, baby.

8 thoughts on “Calamity in the Kitchen: Day 1

  1. Ok, this is hysterical. And makes me feel so much better about my own chaos! Now, if I could only figure out how to throw in 4 more under-5 kids, documentation of their learning to go to their parents during naptime, and still manage to get some food prepped by dinnertime, I’d be all set!

  2. Hilarious!!!! this…

    “although it would make (heaps of!) sense to say, ‘okay, gotta clean the kitchen and then I can get cooking,’ do I? Oh hell no. I tell myself, ‘I’ll just get this one thing started, and then I’ll clean in between times, in the lulls.”

    just totally describes my methods!! My husband often laments about how it would be way easier to start with a clean kitchen. Hell no, by the time you get the kitchen clean you’re either too tired (bored) to fire up the cooking motivation or the baby is sick of playing with all things in bottom drawer at your feet…..

    may as well just close your eyes, hold your breath and jump in!!

  3. you described manic-cooking(project) days perfectly. made me think that–ascrazyastheyseem–there’s something to all that rush that keeps us creative, experimenting and alive.

    i wish you a restful recovery from the frenzy.

  4. This made me smile so much. The juggle of the kids, all the cooking and then photos as well. I can totally relate to this kind of juggle/cooking.
    This week has been a frenzy of cooking for me, I’m inspired and want to try a whole heap of stuff out, juggling the kids, getting out at the right times so not to stuff up Little Monkeys nap (which is crucial time for me to cook, take photos, clean up, blog…. and what I should be doing first- study). Hence the odd poke in the pram to keep him to stay awake until we get home again.
    Keep it up, you doing awesome.

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