The Highs and Lows of Cooking

I have mentioned before in a previous blog Eating – A Necessary Evil that I am not a fan of cooking because in short, I am not a fan of eating.  Today I told my sister and a friend that were it not for my health conscious lifestyle and desire to save money I would likely live off of frozen or microwavable meals and take out.  I do tend to cook 4, sometimes 5, nights a week.  The fact that I have a husband to feed ensures I can’t just make a big pot of pasta and eat it all week long.  I suppose this actually ranks me higher than most Americans when it comes to cooking homemade meals.

My disdain for cooking and my average skills in it results in me having a lot of ups and downs in the kitchen.  The first time I made Pan Seared Pork Chops Topped with Brown Sugar Apples and Bacon (recipe here) I was more excited than when I completed my first 5k.  Mind you I was in the kitchen for an hour and my husband, Jason, devoured the meal in less than half that time, but I was so proud of what came out looking like a restaurant quality meal.  I now refer to the recipe as “fancy pork chops” because it is the closest to gourmet cooking I have ever come.

I feel accomplished when I’m able to try out a new recipe and have it be successful enough to make again.  It gives me a boost of confidence that I can’t achieve from any other activity.  I suppose it comes from doubting my abilities and instead having impressed myself with my success.

I have had many failures in the kitchen as well.  This goes as far back to when I was a kid and made Kool-Aid for the first time.  My poor father had the displeasure of discovering that I had forgotten to add the sugar.  A few years ago I tried making a tortilla encrusted salmon that came out horribly wrong and caused me to cry.  Jason didn’t understand why I was so upset and said we could just get pizza.  To me though it was such a waste.  Of time.  Of food.  Of my efforts.

Then there are nights like tonight when a recipe just doesn’t turn out as good as it sounds.  I had planned to cook some penne and throw it in vodka sauce, but the back of the pasta box had a recipe for a creamy garlic cheese sauce.  As luck would have it I actually had all the ingredients on hand so I thought why not?  I followed the directions to the letter and every step was completed, but the sauce just did not impress me.  It was such a letdown given how wonderful the description of it sounded.  I’m sure a more advanced chef would know the best ways to tweak the recipe to enhance the sauce, but all my hours spent watching Food Network have not instilled in me those same skills.  Next time I’ll stick to the vodka sauce.

I have chosen to take on the challenge of hosting Easter brunch this year for my parents, sister and her husband and my in-laws.  This will be my first attempt at a holiday meal as well as cooking for that many people.  Truth be told I’m doing it as brunch because I have much more confidence with cooking breakfast foods than I do anything else, and my mother has already generously offered to make a ham to bring.  I wasn’t about to attempt that myself and homemade mashed potatoes are out of the question (a 5 year old could probably peel potatoes better than I can).  My ability to time multiple courses to finish cooking around the same time is still a weakness.  Eggs, pancakes and bacon are much more in line with what I can handle.  After all you have to crawl before you can walk right?  Wish me luck!

Eating – A Necessary Evil

I know I’m going to sound beyond weird to most people who read this as it likely goes against human nature, but I really do not enjoy eating.  I honestly find it to be a chore and unlike cleaning, one that I cannot just push off to a different day.

This is not to say I do not enjoy food.  I have yet to meet a breakfast food I do not enjoy.  Ok, I lie – I dislike oatmeal as the texture bothers me.  I am a very big fan of pasta, chicken, cheese, Sunchips and chocolate milkshakes.  An occasional bacon cheeseburger or meatball sub hits the spot as well.

Beyond that though my tastes are very limited which I think fuels my disdain of eating.  Vegetables, other than corn or potatoes, tend to make me gag no matter how they are cooked.  I have advanced to tolerating peppers and onions if they are finely chopped and also use kale in a pasta recipe I make.  Salad is not an option and yes, I do get weird stares at restaurants when I order a meal that comes with one and I decline it.  Apparently everyone eats salad?

Because I refuse to rely heavily on prepackaged meals to satiate my body’s needs I am forced to cook.  My limited food choices mean besides breakfast, every week is a struggle to figure out what to cook for dinner.  I know, many people struggle with the same issue as we fall into that rut of cooking the same old recipes.  Unlike many people though, when I go searching for new recipes I’m stuck removing ingredients from the list until the recipe resembles something I likely already cook.

I’m also limited because of my somewhat below average cooking skills and disinterest in cooking in general.  By below average I mean I can cook a meal that doesn’t kill anyone, but do not ask me to cook for more than four people.  Also, don’t expect homemade mashed potatoes or anything that requires slicing and dicing unless my husband is home to help.  I tend to write off any recipe that has more than 5-6 ingredients (spices not included) or takes more than 30 minutes of actual work.  If it’s a meal that I can pop in the oven or crock pot and forget, great.  If I can whip it up in the electric skillet (my adored kitchen gadget) in 20 minutes it’s a winner.  Beyond that I am in utter annoyance by being trapped in the kitchen.

I was asked once what I’d rather be doing instead of cooking.  In short basically anything.  The idea of wasting my life to cook a meal that will be devoured in under 20 minutes (sometimes under 10 if you are my husband) only to have the energy derived from it wear off in a few hours grates on me.  I feel this is such an inefficiency in the human body.  All these years of evolution and our bodies still require near constant sustenance.  Why hasn’t someone come up with a battery pack for humans yet?

Then of course you have the dishes.  This is by far the most disgusting regular chore I have ever had the displeasure of completing.  There is just something about putting my hands in slimy, food-laden water that just grosses me out completely.  I am fortunate that my husband takes the lead on doing the dishes and our new house does have a dishwasher.  Those random nights where I end up doing the dishes though are not pleasant.

The entire process of eating – meal planning, food prep, cooking, cleaning up and yes, even the eating of the food itself is one big never ending chore in my life.  If someone offered to cook for me for the rest of my life I would gladly take them up on the offer.  Maybe one day there will be such a thing as a taste bud transplant, and I could sign up and experience the joy that so many others feel in eating a wide variety of foods.  Until then I will suffer in the kitchen and appease my body by eating the same old same old foods.

It All Started with Pancakes

I recently found the blog 100 Days of Real Food.  I am amazed at the ability for this family to go cold turkey on processed food for 100 days and consider them a real inspiration.  With that said I personally cannot be that dedicated or motivated to do something so drastic.

Like most I’m a creature of habit and in order to change specific habits I need to ease into them.  In this case I chose to start with one meal, breakfast, and one recipe – pancakes.  Prior to finding the blog I relied on Eggo chocolate chip pancakes to be my food of choice in the mornings.  Once I actually read the ingredients on the box, however, and realized many of them I couldn’t pronounce let alone guess what they really were, I realized I should really be making pancakes from scratch.  I love homemade pancakes (and by homemade I mean Bisquik pancake mix), but always found that freezing leftover pancakes would result in hard spots once I microwaved them to eat later.

The recipe I found on the blog for whole-wheat banana pancakes intrigued me for 2 reasons:  one – it promised that the recipe worked great to freeze pancakes and two – it called for white whole wheat flour which promoted a milder taste than typical whole wheat.  A few weeks ago I put the recipe’s claims to the test and found that it held true to its word – I was able to eat great pancakes from freezing and microwaving and I didn’t notice a taste difference in eating whole wheat.

I will admit I cheated in being 100% healthy – the first batch I made followed the recipe but near the end I threw in some chocolate chips.  I made my second batch today splitting the original recipe into two bowls so that I could add frozen blueberries to one and chocolate chips to the other.  It is my hope to find “healthy” (ie organic and dark) chocolate chips so there won’t be any future guilt in making the recipe.

Since making my first batch I have begun making other small changes as well in hopes of improving my eating habits.  I’ve bought all natural peanut butter and jelly along with whole wheat bread.  I admit I’m getting used to the bread’s texture, but I’m hoping the more I eat it the more it doesn’t phase me.  I’ve been choosing snacks from the organic aisle such as Annie’s Cheddar Squares which I will attest taste identical to Cheese Its.  Today I found pumpkin spice Kefir which made me super excited as I love nearly everything pumpkin spice flavored.

Don’t let me fool you – I have indulged in Pizza Hut, ice cream and Tastykakes this past week.  I am, however, taking baby steps towards a healthier, more natural diet.  Each time I choose something that is less processed or organic, or I make it from scratch I build more confidence that I’m moving in the right direction.  And it all started with pancakes.