Wednesday, October 31, 2012

making bacon pancaaaakes

Lance forced me to listen to this the other day. It was doom. You're welcome.

My real purpose for blogging today is to extend my conversation from yesterday and talk about recipes. Flinn pointed out how a lot of inexperienced home cooks are afraid to tamper and modify recipes.  When something turns out badly, they blame themselves rather than the recipe.  I used to be a religious follower of recipes, which is good when you're baking--you don't want to tamper too much with proportions--however, I discovered ways that I could fiddle with recipes.  Occasionally, it failed miserably, but that was okay.  I learned from it.

Yesterday, I decided to cook a recipe from Heidi Swanson's Super Natural Every Day, Miso-Curry Delicata Squash.  Problems: I didn't have enough delicata, I didn't have any kale or pepitas, and I strongly dislike cilantro.  So, I added some sweet potato to replace the delicata, stir fry chard to replace the kale, and use almonds and basil instead of pepitas and cilantro.  The result was pretty delicious.

It was startling to think about how something that seems so natural to my way of cooking was once alien--and that it is something that is anxiety-inducing among many.  It's a lot like elements of teaching writing (like revision): we often forget things that are second nature to us, but were once hard and problematic when we were inexperienced.  It's the same for cooking with recipes.

Recipes are like guidelines, but (depending on what the recipe is) there's a lot of ways to adapt.  Once you get a sense of how much you can change (and what flavors go well with each other), you begin to see how recipes are infinitely adaptable.  Wonderful.

And I'll stop now before I start making all sorts of crazy parallels to the teaching of writing, since I've been in read-all-the-papers-and-meet-with-all-the-students land.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

cooking books

I've been frequenting the library lately in an attempt to plow through my reading lists (another post for another day).  Being surrounded by books, I inevitably end up browsing and checking out a few home, though I really don't have time to read for fun. (Though I do anyway.)  As I snagged the very interesting Language Matters: A Guide to Everyday Questions about Language (Napoli and Lee-Schoenfeld, 2010), I also grabbed Kathleen Flinn's The Kitchen Counter Cooking School (2011).  And proceeded to neglect reading other things (including my student's work) to rapidly consume it.

Flinn's other book, The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry, is part of my scholarly project on the genre of cooking memoirs, so I was intrigued.  In The Kitchen Counter Cooking School, Flinn decides to find volunteers who feel apprehensive in the kitchen and teach them basic skills.  The experiment begins with a chance encounter with a woman in the grocery store; after giving her a few tips and helping her shop for more wholesome foods (instead of processed foods), the woman left excited and grateful.  Flinn sought out ultimately nine women who shared similar fears about cooking with real ingredients and gave weekly lessons on knife skills and cooking vegetables, chicken, beef/pork, bread, and soup, not to mention what to do with leftovers and how to reduce waste in the kitchen.

I thoroughly enjoyed the book, and it made me think about my own kitchen and habits.  While I don't particularly rely on convenience foods and feel comfortable in the kitchen, I sometimes opt for eating out or boiling a box of macaroni and cheese (it was organic! and on sale!) in lieu of cooking.  Flinn's purpose is not to make her readers feel guilty for the occasional foray into convenience/processed foods, but to point out how these foods are often easy to make with a bit of planning--and that the flavor is usually immeasurably better.

Her volunteers discover the same things.  Flinn visits their houses and has them prepare a meal for her; the majority prepared foods primarily from cans or boxes.  When pressed if they enjoyed the flavor, they invariably shrugged and said not was just easy.  It seemed that the major transformative moment for the volunteers was when they discovered that all the additives and chemicals in processed food actually tasted horrible, and that fresh, real food was far superior.

More importantly, the volunteers lost their fear about the kitchen.  They learned that cooking doesn't have to be overly complicated or difficult--a few simple flavors can turn something simple into something simply delicious.  They learned how to wield their knives to chop vegetables with skill and ease; they learned how to take a whole chicken and break it down. They stopped being afraid to cook with whole ingredients, and discovered the joy that can be found in cooking.

For me, it was a refreshing reminder of how far I've come as a cook, conquering my own fears in the kitchen.  While my own mother wasn't a terrible cook, we far too often relied on processed, flavor-less dishes, so the way I eat now is a far cry from what I grew up eating.  I'm lucky that I managed to figure out how to cook with often "strange" ingredients, that I get a lot of joy out of trying new recipes, and that I'm not afraid to experiment and try new things.  Flinn's book made me realize that my story isn't typical of the majority of American cooks.  Even Flinn herself--a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu--found herself rethinking her approach to cooking and food.

If you're looking for a good read with some good tips for basic, simple cooking (it has some delicious recipes!), check out Flinn's book.  It has inspired me to cook a bit more this week--I have set up a chart on my fridge with the contents in my fridge and some possible recipes to make with those ingredients to try to avoid food waste and to actually use what I have on hand.  More than that, it was a prompt to reflect on my own cooking experiences and seek out the opportunity to continue learning more.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

marathon numero dos.

So I went to Wichita (and had this song stuck in my head the whole weekend) to run my second marathon.  We set out early Saturday morning after fueling up with coffee and LBC treats, arrived, checked into the hotel, and found an awesome microbrewery downtown to have (one) beer and eat mac and cheese (with broccoli!).  L didn't come on this trip because he was busy celebrating with friends, so it was me and my two lady runner friends, A and K, and A's husband.

We woke early the next morning. I had slept fitfully, as I do when I'm in new places or slightly anxious (or both), so I got out of bed when the alarm chimed and began to prepare myself for the race. Clothes, muffins (vegan almond quinoa!), a tiny bit of coffee, and then...some waiting. We were a mere 10 minute walk from the race location, so we were able to dodge the porta-potties by walking down shortly before the race started.  It was a chilly start, and we were all in our tank tops, so we huddled together for warmth and moved around a bit to loosen our muscles up for the task ahead.

The Prairie Fire Marathon was smallish--there were around 700 marathoners that day, but over 2,000 half-marathon runners--so the start was all at once.  After the first mile or so of dodging large crowds of people, the field thinned a bit, and we were able to set into a good pace. K took off (we would not see her again until mile 17--she was flying!), but A and I stuck together for most of the race.  

I had thought I would have a similar experience as the Little Rock Marathon, but this was a lot different. For one, the first six miles didn't feel great. I had some mysterious soreness in my hips, and my legs felt a little stiff and heavy.  I wasn't happy. But sometime after mile six, I started feeling great.  I was running a good pace, the weather was lovely, and A and I were running side-by-side, making jokes and cheering each other up.  I started shouting "wooooo!" at the spectators, to be delightfully rewarded by enthusiastic cheers in return.  The middle part of the race breezed by as we picked up our pace.

Around mile 18, A began to pick up her pace, but I couldn't quite keep up. At this point, I hit a bit of a wall. I was tired, sore, a little nauseated.  I couldn't eat any more gels; I drank the gatorade/water, but my stomach didn't really want it.  It was grueling and miserable, and at that moment, I swore I would never run another marathon.

The last half mile, something magical happened.  I slowed (again) to a slight walk, but then I heard "You can do it!" from a fellow runner.  It was someone I had been running with the last chunk of the race, and her encouragement bolstered me--I began running again at a good clip, pulling on the strength I had.  I crossed the finish line in 3:55:56, sobbing slightly from pain, relief, and joy.

Of course, I am going to run another marathon.  The reason these events are so wonderful is the delight of being surrounded by all these people who are striving to accomplish the same goal.  While we run individually, we also run together, and we encourage and hold each other up.  I wish I had thought to thank that woman who encouraged me to keep going--she knew I just needed one more boost to make it that last half mile, and she gave it to me.  I'm lucky that I'm able to be a part of something so amazing and rewarding.

Running a marathon is a little crazy.  And while it hurt a lot at the time, the knowledge that I was able to train for and finish such an endeavor makes me feel like I can do anything.  Not only that, but I also have an incredibly supportive group of friends (runners and non-runners alike) who encourage me and cheer me on.  While I was the one who had to run those 26.2 miles, it's those friends who support me along the way and give me the confidence to tackle any challenge, no matter how crazy.